Durkheimian Utilitarianism

by John Holbo on February 19, 2017

This post continues what has evolved into my critical series on Jonathan Haidt (see parts 1 and 2). The burden of the first two posts was: probably a good time to talk about justice, eh? So let’s. I’m going to split it into two, so I can kvetch about how Haidt is confused about Mill (this post), then try to do better myself (next post).

I got email about my last post (not just comments!) suggesting Haidt could do better than I give him credit for. I am 100% sure this is correct. I reconstructed Haidt’s argument with a conspicuously cloudy Premise 3: “something something plurality something pluralism something diversity?” I am sure Haidt could tighten that one up. Yet it does not seem to me he, in fact, has. In this post I am going to lay out textual evidence. Having done my best to expose the logical worst, I’m going to close this post by trying to say how he got into this hole. Honestly, I think I get it. He wants to have his Mill and eat his Durkheim, too. Best of both. I also get why he might feel his bridge from Durkheim to Mill might be load-bearing.

First, a basic point about the sense of ‘justice’ at issue in this post. (A sense we will have to broaden if and when I get around to the follow-up.)

Haidt is, we know, concerned about under-representation of conservatives in academe. There are two possible grounds for such concern.

1) It’s distributively unfair, hence unjust to conservatives, if there is viewpoint discrimination against them, as a result of which they fail to gain employment (or they lose employment).

2) It’s intellectually damaging to debate to have few conservatives present in conversations in which, predictably, liberals and conservatives will find themselves at odds.

I have no idea what Haidt thinks about 1. His arguments concern 2, so I’m going to focus on that. Justice as in: optimal intellectual balance. Epistemic justice. Justice as in justification. Not distributive justice.

On we go.

Haidt responded to my first, critical post with a somewhat exasperated post of his own, which pretty much came to: how hard is this, really? Can’t we agree a bit of Mill would be in order? Can’t we eyeball these justice-as-in-intellectual-balance scales and agree they are off?

Mill and I and the rest of Heterodox Academy think it would be better to expose students — and professors — to people who hold views across the political spectrum, especially if you can do it within an institution that fosters a sense of community and norms of civility. We don’t care about balance. We don’t need every view to be represented. We just want to break up orthodoxy. Is that illogical?

I said in my second post this does sound pretty good. But, on examination, it is illogical. Well, at least one form of it. I constructed a reductio ad absurdum. Based on Haidt’s writings, one of the big reasons why he wants to break up liberal/progressive hegemony in academe is he thinks this is a perilously narrow moral perch, foundations-wise. Getting some conservatives in would broaden that. But Haidt also wants to combat PC – the repressive orthodoxy of SJW’s. But PC is very morally broad-based, in Haidt’s own sense. So if the problem were moral narrowness, per se, repressive PC-culture should solve it, not exemplify it. Haidt is pushing for more conservatism, less SJW-style activism, on campus. But, through the lens of his own moral foundations-theory, it’s same-same. How not?

Recently Haidt has argued that the telos of the university is truth – not social justice. But this could as easily be an argument for keeping conservatives out as letting them in. The telos of conservatism is not truth; it’s … conserving. (Something-something.) Suppose on Earth-2 (where William F. Buckley’s God and Man At Yale is considered a Bible of curricular planning) Jonathan Haidt-2 gives a talk that is point-for-point analogous to our (Earth-1) Haidt talk, making the case that universities should take measures to restrict the influence of conservatives on campus. Instead of starting with a quote from Marx about how the point is change, Haidt-2 starts with one from Burke about how the point is not-change:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”

Haidt-2 is impassioned about how the university is properly a place for those grasshoppers to be importunate, and if a load of thoughtless conservative cattle trample them, the university is not the place it should be.

Why should I accept Haidt’s argument, rather than Haidt-2’s argument?

Haidt will presumably reply: I’m both right! We are talking about corrective measures and it is perfectly imaginable that in one context there are too many conservatives, in another too few.

Yes, that is rather intuitive. Yet it’s actually not clear. How will we know when we have finally landed on Earth-Goldilocks, which is neither too conservative nor not-conservative-enough but just right? Is it supposed to be obvious by looking at the picture?

Here the response might be: look, we needn’t solve this thing to three significant moral digits. I use my common sense and admit I don’t know what the metaphysically perfect balance of liberals-conservatives in academe is, sub specie aeternitatus; but this balance we’ve got looks seriously skewed left – just look at the data! How could that be optimal? So let’s nudge it a bit. Mischief managed.

Yes, but if we are going to take this sort of ecological corrective view, what’s wrong with those on the other side expanding our sense of the scope of the ecology whose balance we should be rejiggering: the President is a Republican, Congress is Republican, the courts will soon be Republican, the state houses and governorships skew Republican, the Constitution skews rural when it comes to counting votes. All this, and you are worried a few besieged blue dots in a sea of red are too blue? Talk about lacking a sense of proportion!

What is being corrected? Which values are absolute, which ones are more instrumental? For example: does Haidt think we need more conservatives on campus because we have a duty to be agnostic as to whether, ideally, we should want campuses to be relatively (Durkheimian) conservative places, more so than (Millian) liberal enclaves? But if that’s so, how can he be sure they aren’t better off as (Durkheimian) SJW indoctrination camps? Or is the idea, rather, that we know Millian liberalism shall be our master value (because we know it’s true?) But, in order to keep the quality of the liberal kayfabe up, we need real conservatives on campus to act as convincing sparring partners? They need to lose with conviction.

I’m sure Haidt is not going to like either of those two options. But then what? Honestly, what are we valuing? And why?

Let me push past reductio -style puzzles to a direct confrontation with the intellectual root of the trouble.

I’m going to continue critiquing Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, as I did in the previous post. This means my critique will have a somewhat indirect bearing on the stuff at Heterodox Academy. Not all that stuff is based on Haidt’s book, yet if these Righteous Mind arguments are active in their minds – Haidt is one of their active minds – and if the argument are bad, that’s a sign they may not have made their minds up right.

In what sense is Haidt a Millian? How and why?

As I mentioned, Haidt was evidently a bit exasperated by my refusal to go for common-sense Millianism in my first post. For my part, I experienced my own moment of exasperation while reading Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, seeing him try to stick the landing such that he lands on Mill. He starts his routine in a very different place. With Durkheim. I quoted him in my last post complaining (bemusedly) about how WEIRD his students all are [Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic]. Buying Mill’s Harm Principle is weirdest-of-the-WEIRD. Kids these days are too quick to buy Mill. Haidt is determined to bust us out of our WEIRD little box.

And yet he is exasperated when others won’t buy his Millian arguments about the university. So what gives?

Let me just quote him, quoting himself (from an earlier article) about Mill vs. Durkheim:

First, imagine society as a social contract invented for our mutual benefit. All individuals are equal, and all should be left as free as possible to move, develop talents, and form relationships as they please. The patron saint of a contractual society is John Stuart Mill, who wrote (in On Liberty) that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Mill’s vision appeals to many liberals and libertarians; a Millian society at its best would be a peaceful, open, and creative place where diverse individuals respect each other’s rights and band together voluntarily (as in Obama’s calls for “unity”) to help those in need or to change the laws for the common good.

On the other hand:

Now imagine society not as an agreement among individuals but as something that emerged organically over time as people found ways of living together, binding themselves to each other, suppressing each other’s selfishness, and punishing the deviants and free riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. The basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions. Individuals in such societies are born into strong and constraining relationships that profoundly limit their autonomy. The patron saint of this more binding moral system is the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who warned of the dangers of anomie (normlessness) and wrote, in 1897, that “man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him.” A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures. A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one’s groups over concerns for out-groups.

Obviously there is some tension here, to put it mildly. Obviously Haidt perfectly well sees that. Yet he’s going to skate from the latter back to the former by means of a slick rhetorical move I like to classify as your basic ‘Nixon Goes To China with a Chestertonian antinomy double-lutz’. I’ve watched other thinkers try to stick this challenging landing. I will explain the name. For now, here’s how it proceeds in Haidt’s case.

Haidt begins with a sweeping dismissal of some major moral theories, on grounds of unhealthy monism. (Haidt, per the previous post, per above, is concerned with healthy ecologies of value. He distrusts moral monoculture. It’s unstable, it’s blind.)

Morality is so rich and complex, so multifaceted and internally contradictory. Pluralists such as [Richard] Shweder rise to the challenge, offering theories that can explain moral diversity within and across cultures. Yet many authors reduce morality to a single principle, usually some variant of welfare maximization (basically, help people, don’t hurt them). Or sometimes it’s justice or related notions of fairness, rights, or respect for individuals and their autonomy. There’s The Utilitarian Grill, serving only sweeteners (welfare), and The Deontological Diner, serving only salts (rights). Those are your options. Neither Shweder nor I am saying that “anything goes,” or that all societies or all cuisines are equally good. But we believe that moral monism — the attempt to ground all of morality on a single principle — leads to societies that are unsatisfying to most people and at high risk of becoming inhumane because they ignore so many other moral principles.

Haidt proceeds to offer armchair clinical diagnoses of both Bentham and Kant as possible Asperger’s cases. Likely, in Bentham’s case; more doubtful in Kant’s (he was a very social dude, was Kant):

Bentham’s philosophy showed an extraordinary degree of systemizing, and as Baron-Cohen says, systemizing is a strength. Problems arise, however, when systemizing occurs in the absence of empathizing. In an article titled “Asperger’s Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham,” Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran collect accounts of Bentham’s personal life and compare them to the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome. They find a close match on the main diagnostic criteria, including those involving low empathy and poor social relationships. Bentham had few friends as a child, and he left a string of angry ex-friends as an adult. He never married, referred to himself as a hermit, and seemed to care little about other people. One contemporary said of him: “He regards the people about him no more than the flies of a summer.” A related criterion is an impaired imaginative capacity, particularly with respect to the inner lives of other people. In his philosophy as in his personal behavior, Bentham offended many of his contemporaries by his inability to perceive variety and subtlety in human motives. John Stuart Mill — a decidedly non-autistic utilitarian — came to despise Bentham. He wrote that Bentham’s personality disqualified him as a philosopher because of the “incompleteness” of his mind: “In many of the most natural and strongest feelings of human nature he had no sympathy; from many of its graver experiences he was altogether cut off; and the faculty by which one mind understands a mind different from itself, and throws itself into the feelings of that other mind, was denied him by his deficiency of Imagination.” Lucas and Sheeran conclude that had Bentham been alive today, “it is likely he would have received the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.”

Sidebar note: it isn’t right that Mill said Bentham’s extreme personality ‘disqualified him as a philosopher’. That’s too strong for Mill even at his most anti-Bentham. But, pushing on, Haidt hastens to add:

I do not want to suggest that utilitarianism and Kantian deontology are incorrect as moral theories just because they were founded by men who may have had Asperger’s syndrome. That would be an ad hominem argument, a logical error, and a mean thing to say … But in psychology our goal is descriptive. We want to discover how the moral mind actually works, not how it ought to work.

Nevertheless, since Haidt does not canvas any arguments whatsoever for utilitarianism or Kantianism, at any point, yet he clearly presumes to reject them on some basis, the basis for his normative rejection can only be these speculative diagnoses … plus, as aforementioned, the ecological concern that utilitarianism and deontology are hazardously monotonic.

So let’s give Haidt the benefit of the doubt and say it’s the latter. No monotonic theory could be true. These are monotonic theories. They can’t be true.

“So what is there beyond harm and fairness?” Haidt asks.

It turns out, per my previous Haidt posts, that there are four more things, hence six things – six fundamental values, in total.

But, in a more accurate sense, it turns out that what we find when we venture boldly forth beyond harm and fairness is … harm.

Near the end of the book Haidt provides, in one sentence, what he evidently regards as the correct theory: “I think Jeremy Bentham was right that laws and public policies should aim, as a first approximation, to produce the greatest total good.”

The whole argument is this: “I don’t know what the best normative ethical theory is for individuals in their private lives. But when we talk about making laws and implementing public policies in Western democracies that contain some degree of ethnic and moral diversity, then I think there is no compelling alternative to utilitarianism.”

That’s it. I have now given you the argument, alpha and omega, soup-to-nuts, that Haidt musters on behalf of his normative conclusion. Having argued earlier that we can’t afford to think just inside one WEIRD box – as rationalists tend to – Haidt now maintains the one weird trick turns out to be to focus, pluralistically, just on what we need inside our one WEIRD box. He regards this as sufficiently plausible that – just as he provided no arguments against utilitarianism earlier, when dismissing it as borderline autistic – he provides no arguments in favor of it now. He simply labels it manifestly sane, a humane basis for pluralism.

He proceeds to use the term ‘Durkheimian utilitarianism’. The idea is, obviously: best of both. Higher synthesis. But in what sense(s)? “I just want Bentham to read Durkheim and recognize that we are Homo duplex before he tells any of us, or our legislators, how to go about maximizing that total good.”

But why should this point us towards Mill’s On Liberty rather than towards, say, Plato’s Republic?

Plato wanted to maximize the Good. Plato thought it was vitally important to recognize that the soul is divided. Why shouldn’t we assemble an elite group of social justice warriors, kidnap a bunch of little kids, and found Plato’s Republic?

Haidt has a lot more to say in his book about ‘Durkheimian utilitarianism’, but not a lot – in fact nothing, so far as I can see – that addresses such rather basic concerns. Why Mill, not Plato? Why conservatives, not social justice warriors? If you don’t have any answer to such basic questions, you’ve got a lot of thinking left to do. The most I can do on Haidt’s behalf, without just leaving him behind, is to point out how the position he jumps to – never mind how he gets there – has a certain attraction. Let me now frame it as favorably as I can.

Haidt should read Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination. I’ve never seen him reference it. I think he would like it. I think he would say: this is just what I have been saying! I’m not feeding it to him as some sneaky poison pill. I think Haidt is a Trilling liberal. I used to be one of those myself but I eventually decided it doesn’t really work. Trilling starts with Mill on Bentham and Coleridge, just as Haidt thinks we should. From the Preface to The Liberal Imagination:

Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation. Its characteristic paradox appears again, and in another form, for in the very interests of its great primal act of imagination by which it establishes its essence and existence — in the interests, that is, of its vision of a general enlargement and freedom and rational direction of human life — it drifts toward a denial of the emotions and the imagination. And in the very interest of affirming its confidence in the power of the mind, it inclines to constrict and make mechanical its conception of the nature of mind. Mill, to refer to him a last time, understood from his own experience that the imagination was properly the joint possession of the emotions and the intellect, that it was fed by the emotions, and that without it the intellect withers and dies, that without it the mind cannot work and cannot properly conceive itself. I do not know whether or not Mill had particularly in mind a sentence from the passage from Thomas Burnet’s Archaeologiae Philosophicae which Coleridge quotes as the epigraph to The Ancient Mariner, the sentence in which Burnet says that a judicious belief in the existence of demons has the effect of keeping the mind from becoming “narrow, and lapsed entirely into mean thoughts,” but he surely understood what Coleridge, who believed in demons as little as Mill did, intended by his citation of the passage. Coleridge wanted to enforce by that quaint sentence from Burnet what is the general import of The Ancient Mariner apart from any more particular doctrine that exegesis may discover — that the world is a complex and unexpected and terrible place which is not always to be understood by the mind as we use it in our everyday tasks.

It is one of the tendencies of liberalism to simplify, and this tendency is natural in view of the effort which liberalism makes to organize the elements of life in a rational way. And when we approach liberalism in a critical spirit, we shall fail in critical completeness if we do not take into account the value and necessity of its organizational impulse. But at the same time we must understand that organization means delegation, and agencies, and bureaus, and technicians, and that the ideas that can survive delegation, that can be passed on to agencies and bureaus and technicians, incline to be ideas of a certain kind and of a certain simplicity: they give up something of their largeness and modulation and complexity in order to survive. The lively sense of contingency and possibility, and of those exceptions to the rule which may be the beginning of the end of the rule — this sense does not suit well with the impulse to organization. So that when we come to look at liberalism in a critical spirit, we have to expect that there will be a discrepancy between what I have called the primal imagination of liberalism and its present particular manifestations.

I say: this is Haidt. This is what he is driving at. This is what he means when he says he wants ‘Durkheimian utilitarianism’.

Which brings me to: Nixon goes to China. “Only Nixon could go to China” is, of course, an old Vulcan proverb – and there is a touch of the Vulcan about Haidt, just as there was about Bentham (no doubt!)

Trilling and Haidt have an only-Nixon-can-go-to-China theory of liberalism. Liberalism is right, but, paradoxically, liberalism generates a temperament that is incapable of sustaining liberalism. Liberalism needs to infuse itself with – inoculate itself with – anti-liberalism, lest it itself become anti-liberal. Never trust a liberal to run liberalism. They’ll screw it up. This is why it makes intuitive sense to Haidt to trash Jeremy Bentham personally, and to regard this very act as establishing his bona fides as a competent Benthamite. Benthamism is obviously the only sane philosophy. But the only Benthamite you can trust is a Benthamite who would never trust Bentham. Because Bentham was a nut.

Utilitarianism should be instituted by those who are not tempted by it. Just as, if you really are going to try to institute Plato’s Republic, you should probably hire Edmund Burke as Philosopher King. That would help you to avoid certain extreme difficulties that will otherwise bring the project to practical grief.

I’m not going to critique this view. I’m going to note that it’s a bit much to claim it without argument. It’s even more to claim it without even claiming it, in so many words. It’s implicit in ‘Durkheimian utilitarianism’, I take it. If I have guessed Haidt’s riddle rightly.

In my follow-up post – if and when I get around to writing it! – I’m just going to set all this aside. I’m going to try to back up and re-approach, more considerately, the proposition that Haidt skates up to and right over (and Trilling did the same, and Mill before him): how and why, and to what degree, does it make sense to say that we need a balance of ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’ – left and right: progressive and conservative, call it what you will – as an epistemic optimum?

Last and probably least, I hinted there’s a Chesterton connection. ‘Nixon Goes To China with a Chestertonian antinomy double-lutz’. What is Chestertonian antinomianism? I have actually written about it before.

‘Antinomian’ from an + tinom, proto-Germanic for ‘on tin’. The earliest occurrence is in Wodehouse: “The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G. K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.” By metaphoric extension, ‘antinomianism’ was … applied, generally, to anyone who, like Chesterton, considers that, for some obscure reason, the law doesn’t apply to him.

Chesterton makes orthodoxy seem wonderfully plausible by the simple expedient of being so utterly heterodox about it. We can swallow all of Chesterton’s paradoxes because he assures us he hates paradoxes. So it’s probably alright. This feels like ironic wisdom, not simply logical contradiction. Honestly, I’m kind of a sucker for this stuff. I love Chesterton and I really like Trilling. I like Haidt, too. But honesty compels me to point out that this cleverness can also be a license to sheer laziness. It wants to be the wisdom of seeing both sides. But it might be just switching sides, as you like it. That’s the danger with Haidt, too.

{ 129 comments }

1

Adam Roberts 02.19.17 at 10:06 am

if we are going to take this sort of ecological corrective view, what’s wrong with those on the other side expanding our sense of the scope of the ecology whose balance we should be rejiggering: the President is a Republican, Congress is Republican, the courts will soon be Republican, the state houses and governorships skew Republican, the Constitution skews rural when it comes to counting votes. All this, and you are worried a few besieged blue dots in a sea of red are too blue? Talk about lacking a sense of proportion!

But these things are interconnected, aren’t they? Let’s say (seems reasonable to me) that Haidt’s sense that the universities are nests of liberalism and radicalism is widely shared among the very rural voters disproportionately represented by your crazy electoral system. ‘Universities’ here become synecdoches for ‘elite privilege’ more broadly, and said voters vote Trump to twit all these liberal profs like you and me, and do so in sufficient numbers to put him in the White House, for good gracious sake. Conversely, if the sense percolated through the country that conservative views are not being locked-out of all the coastal bastions of power and privilege, of which the universities are a leading and symbolic example, then maybe rural voters would be less likely to articulate themselves electorally in this self- and other-damaging manner. I appreciate it’s a perception rather than a reality but in electoral politics above all percipi est esse.

2

RichardM 02.19.17 at 10:28 am

> resident is a Republican, Congress is Republican

The obvious point here is what does that have to do with conservatism? No current Republican member of either house has a closer connection to that philosophy (i.e. that things should by default stay the same) than they do to any other ideology picked at random, say Juchism. And if you analysed every statement and vote and produced a list of the 100 most Conservative politicians, around 90 of them would have (D) next to their name.

There is at least a case to be made that perhaps it is difficult to get a paying position from which to profess such a view honestly, without an implicit short-term agenda. An academic post, rather than one at a bogus university or think tank. And perhaps there is even a connection between that, if true, and the intellectual situation of the Republican Party.

3

John Holbo 02.19.17 at 10:35 am

Hi Adam, I didn’t mean actually to dismiss either argument out of hand, although it may come out that way. (My tone may have been off.) I meant to suggest that, since very different ways of taking the ‘ecology out of whack’ argument are prima facie plausible, we can’t just accept either as obviously right (and they obviously point in totally different directions). In my follow-up – but who knows when or whether I will get to it! – the problem will be not that there are too few possible arguments for something like what Haidt says but that there are actually too many. But they aren’t all based on the same normative commitments, and they don’t all come to the same, practically. I think Haidt – and others – sort of breeze by these points because they have a sense that ‘surely something in this vicinity is a good reason for having more conservatives’. But that glosses over what exactly you are doing and why you think it is right. These confusions go back to Mill himself, who really advances rather different – and potentially inconsistent – arguments for the kind of position Haidt wants.

4

b9n10nt 02.19.17 at 10:38 am

1) A criticism of this post might be that you set an unreasonably high standard for Haidt to clear: resolve all philosophical tensions within liberalism before sounding off. For instance, if we are on the relevant committee, would we censure Haidt for publically and professionally associating homosexual sex with disgust? We can vote yes and greatly embolden SJW’s pursuit of queer liberation and their personal empowerment, or we can defend norms of free speech that allow greater intellectual freedom within a repressive society. Once we can no longer deconstruct other’s choices but are compelled to make a choice ourselves, I assume we will be standing on shaky ground, philosophically, either way.

2) A society that is sufficiently free of repressive norms will be characterized by individuals who are forming groups defined by their own repressive norms. Paradox! Yet progress can still exist: it is egalitarian. May repression be experienced equally by all! May a straight male learn to be every bit as -and only as- anxious about his sexuality as any straight women or any queer person, for instance. (Beware: within any hegemonic culture, progress will look like repression to high-status individuals, who will likely have a priveleged ability to communicate and universalize their experience.)

5

John Holbo 02.19.17 at 10:43 am

“The obvious point here is what does that have to do with conservatism?”

Yes, as I say to Adam, the problem is that there are really a huge number of possible reasons for a position that is something like Haidt’s. A lot depends on what ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ mean. Obviously both terms mean a lot of different things. There’s a big difference between saying, for example, that US universities have a duty to ‘look like America’ in terms of their values. And saying that, in a timeless sense, there is always something to be said for the ‘party of progress’ and the ‘party of conservation’.

There’s a difference betweeen a modus vivendi-style justification and a positive theory that this is an optimal epistemological arrangement.

In the follow-up my goal is to make a list of all the possible arguments and say what the reasons for them would be and how they differ in their implications.

6

William Timberman 02.19.17 at 12:39 pm

Why all this lovely, balletic fencing wasted on a man whose only purpose in life is to make sure that we grant Newt Gingrich tenure in the History Department, and recognizeAntonin Scalia Neil Gorsuch as the only proper defender of eternal legal verities? It boggles the mind, but then I guess that’s what philosophy is supposed to do. Pace Trilling, it alone can make us sufficiently uncomfortable to allow the full riches of our mental life to flower….

7

Phil 02.19.17 at 1:08 pm

That is a weird account of Durkheim – as if he was presenting a seamlessly perfect organic society as the ideal; as if he were a High Tory or a Victorian medievalist. I guess it’s not untrue to say that Durkheim “warned of the dangers of anomie”, but he also made it clear that we can’t imagine a human society without some degree of anomie – look at the ‘society of saints’ image. (Fun fact: when I was teaching first-year sociological theory I checked all the textbooks I could find to see how they reconciled, or at least explained, these two different usages or valuations of ‘anomie’. None of them did – they just left anomie #1 sitting on the page alongside anomie #2 on the facing page – so I had to work it out for myself. I wasn’t even getting paid for lesson preparation at the time.) Haidt inadvertently sells the ‘organic’ pass himself when he writes of individuals being moulded into pro-social shape by nested and overlapping groups – “wait, do I react to this situation as a good Christian, a good employee or a good son? what do I do?” And enter anomie.

The irony is that, if (as I believe) Durkheim wasn’t a monist but a sceptical pluralist, Haidt hardly needs to step outside Durkheim in the first place – got your individuals always-already embedded in multiple communities, got your multiple moral values and world-views, we’re all set.

8

Tim Scanlon 02.19.17 at 1:51 pm

In fairness to Durkheim, note should be taken of his excellent essay, “Individualism and the Intellectuals” http://www.scribd.com/doc/85771137/Durkheim-Individualism-and-the-Intellectuals

He is much closer to, e.g., Rawls than the use of his name in this discussion would suggest. I apologize if someone has mentioned this earlier. I have not made it all the way through the comments on earlier posts in this series.

9

steven johnson 02.19.17 at 2:07 pm

Short version, still stuck on taking Haidt seriously despite no one knowing why he should be taken seriously. TL;DR follows.

Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.

This is per Wikipedia, which on the whole isn’t very reliable on anything controversial. On the other hand, Haidt obviously spends a lot of time policing the internet, so I think it’s plausible this instance is fairly sound, except that the six foundations here number five.

But, if this is a decent representation of Haidt’s older views…

Care implies the duty to harm enemies.

Fairness as following the rules is in tension with proportionality. Treating everyone the same regardless of circumstances isn’t proportional, but if not following the rules is cheating, then “judicial murder” is an oxymoron.

Loyalty to smaller groups minimally implies competition with other such groups. And maximally implies violent struggle where the only moral issue is membership. If morals are conceived as codes for how people deal with each other, this foundation serves not as a base of morality. The way it moves from group to group makes it more of an earthquake that overthrows any morality other than my side versus yours.

Authority or respect fails to note the occasional inevitable opposition between tradition as perceived by smaller groups and the prevailing notion of legitimate authority. The assassination of abortion doctors is a nicely melodramatic example. But a more topical one would be the conflict between the long tradition which holds the rightful President is the one who won the popular vote (first established in the days of the Founding Fathers, when Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans held that it was thoroughly wrong of the Congress to elect anyone other than Jefferson President, and the Federalists ultimately agreed) with the equally long tradition that conservatives are God’s chosen people, and obviously no lesbian could be rightful President.

Sanctity or purity requires the degradation of the profane and the impure.

Haidt’s five/six moral foundations remind me of the claim there is no logical fallacy that isn’t sometimes correct reasoning, or no cognitive bias that can’t serve as a heuristic economizing on mental labor. All this strikes me very much as a set of claims about what constitutes human nature (pronounced HUMAN NATURE!) And the real animus against liberalism is its violation of human nature.

10

John Holbo 02.19.17 at 2:30 pm

Tim Scanlon! I have read many of your papers and I am truly honored to meet you in my very own comment box. Thanks for the link. My own Durkheim scholarship consists of having read quite a bit in college and being rather lastingly impressed by it. But my understanding was – in the way of the undergraduate mind – somewhat unsophisticated, probably. And I haven’t since revisited the stuff. If I’m going to make posts about Durkheim, probably I should update my own head.

Same goes for you, Phil. Thanks for the anomie thoughts.

I’m going to to think about whether Durkheim could be some kind of para-Rawlsian.

Just to be clear, Haidt doesn’t think Durkheim is a monist. He thinks he’s a pluralist, but I think you may be right that Haidt somewhat exaggerates the harmonious organicism – which is a kind of monism, yes.

11

John Holbo 02.19.17 at 2:31 pm

“Why all this lovely, balletic fencing”

Thenk you thenk you!

12

Pavel 02.19.17 at 6:27 pm

Yes, but if we are going to take this sort of ecological corrective view, what’s wrong with those on the other side expanding our sense of the scope of the ecology whose balance we should be rejiggering…

I see Haidt’s implied assumption that systems and groups intrinsically strive for balance instead of dominance to be pretty faulty here. A variety of radical groups (Communists, Nazis, religious fundamentalists) are interested only in the overwhelming preponderance of their ideas in all spheres of life instead of being placated by some sort of mealy-mouthed representationalism, except insofar as representation advances their cause to complete superiority. The idea that ideologies focused on domination are going to be satisfied and “settle down” with some measure of official institutional representation, as opposed to being emboldened to make further and further gains in every available sphere, is at least somewhat naive. It’s also somewhat fair to say that concepts like “pluralism” and “representation” are absent in the current Tea Party/Evangelical conservative self-identification schema, leaving concession-making to those who actually value making concessions (and ultimately undermining their cause without any cost to those who see concessions merely as stepping stones towards complete victory).

Some counterexamples exist of course (IRA comes to mind), but even in these cases, representation was often considered to be inadequate by the more radical members of these groups and the scope of their ideology was usually more focused on political recognition anyway.

13

Dave Maier 02.19.17 at 6:30 pm

sub specie aeternitatus

Latin pedant alert! It’s sub specie aeternitatIs, with an “i”. Genitive of “aeternitas, aeternitatis”, third declension.

As you were.

14

Lord 02.19.17 at 7:07 pm

How do we rationalize an irrational world beyond facing its irrationality? Is that abandoning rationality, or do we accept the possibility of a rationality that escapes us?

15

PatinIowa 02.19.17 at 10:37 pm

This is all very odd to someone who thinks of himself as well to the left (on economics) and far less authoritarian than his colleagues at a state flagship university.

Why would we be importing more and more radical right wingers, when there are so many more positions vacant? I mean there aren’t many members of the Nation of Islam or the Flat Earth Society around.

If we’re using “liberal” in the sense embodied by the Democratic Party as it currently exists, and then imagining those folks as “leftists” then the whole thing has severe definitional issues, does it not?

16

PatinIowa 02.19.17 at 10:38 pm

To be clear “Why should we be importing more–and more radical–right wingers…”

17

Dwight Cramer 02.20.17 at 1:12 am

when I was a kid in college (back in the 70s) we used to go hear Rawls lecture and then afterwards argue about what he’d said and I think the undergraduate consensus was that there were lots of Durkheim echoes. But we were young and, well not really stupid but pretty ignorant. And that was an awfully long time ago.

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John Quiggin 02.20.17 at 2:08 am

An unstated premise in most of this stuff is that viewpoints strongly represented in the current distribution of opinion in the US have some kind of normative status, whereas others do not.

That’s not as explicit in Haidt as in some other presentations. At face value, he’s arguing that US-style conservatism has some special value that’s not shared by, say, theocratic Islamism, but he never really makes this case.

An obvious implication of the view I’m imputing to Haidt is that there is no general notion of an academic discipline – rather there is an American version, a German version, a Russian version, a Jewish version and so on, each appropriate to the group in question. That’s obviously unappealing, but I don’t see how he gets around it.

It’s all reminiscent of LBJ’s defense of his admittedly mediocre Supreme Court nominee, Abe Fortas – there are millions of mediocre people in the US, shouldn’t they be represented too?

19

LeeH 02.20.17 at 3:09 am

It has been some time since I read Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”, but your previous posts and this one have clarified some of what I was thinking (and just as importantly, what I think is wrong with Haidt’s position)

Haidt’s research is pretty impressive into uncovering the basics we use (we, as in world-wide) to think about morality. His six pillars seem plausibly correct, in the “hmm, it all seems unsurprising, but I hadn’t thought about it before” sense. Of course, we should ask ourselves, why doesn’t this seem surprising?

In reading your posts it really got me to thinking about what the pillars are. The first couple, care/harm and fairness/cheating are very basic approaches to morality. As Haidt himself points out, fairness is one of the first principles we see emerge in children: They are keen to point out when they sense that someone is getting more than they! When forced to think about a novel moral situation, these rank at the top of our ‘moral toolbox’ for figuring out what might be the case. Thanks to those ‘five people on a track’ sort of problems posed in philosophy, care and fairness are how we think about morality when we are forced to think about morality.

Which is sort of the problem. Most of the time, in most situations, we don’t think about morality. We use proxies to guide us: cultural norms, guidelines, laws, stories, etc. Those are caught up in Haidt’s ‘rightmost’ pillars: Authority and Sanctity. Having authority guide our decisions is to use the experience of our immediate elders to inform our decisions. Sanctity is to incorporate the thinking of generations of people who preceded us. Things become sacred (teachings, wisdom, ways to act) only because they represent the collective response of some human culture – nothing is sacred unto itself before a human culture acts upon it!

Thinking conservatively would mean, by definition, using the recorded wisdom of society to inform one’s decision. Alternately, thinking liberally (in the sense that liberal is the opposite of conservative) would mean deriving morality from ‘first principles’: Not asking “What does society say?” but instead “Does this cause harm or injustice to this individual in this setting?” and deriving our moral guidance from the answer.

Which explains why Haidt’s pillars are unsurprising: What he has shown is simply that when thinking liberally, one attempts to discern morality from first principles, and when thinking conservatively, one attempts to discern morality from the collected teachings and experience of society. (As a side, he has shown that self-styled liberals are more often than not to actually moralize liberally, and self-styled conservatives will more often than not moralize conservatively. At least we know ourselves!)

So, I think that Haidt’s moral foundations are unsurprising, albeit potentially useful in that we can name and talk about and think about how we derive our morality.

But Haidt goes off the rails right about there. He has uncovered and categorized something potentially useful, and then he makes the claim (unstated) that Conservative Moral Reasoning is superior to Liberal Moral Reasoning, and Conservative Values Build Better Societies.

The non-sequiter was so jarring on my first reading that I kept having the sense that I’d missed something important, that I’d failed to follow the argument, that I was philosophically naive. So I read it again, and on the second reading I fully realized: Haidt never makes the actual argument, he simply leaps from the moral foundations to telling us that WEIRD/Liberal moralizing is truncated, ergo inferior.

He does attempt a little argument from his visit to India and his nod to the fact that many societies have hierarchy, that they, in the name of societal cohesion, suppress individual fairness/justice to serve society. However, what he really does is commit an egregious post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy: “I see societies have hierarchy and unfairness and subjugation, and most societies have them, therefore, it must be beneficial to the survival of the society.”

Without considering any alternative explanations.

For instance: One thing we can readily see about the customs / norms / teachings of a society is that they easily get interlaced with power relations and the preservation of those power relations. Hierarchy / Caste systems privilege certain people in society at the expense of others, and if one uses as morality those systems as proxy, they become reasonably stable over time. But, of course, they no longer server the function of ensuring lack of harm or cheating, they actually codify harm and injustice for the benefit of a few.

Thanks to the work of Dan Ariely (The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, etc.), we understand that attempting to get a little extra while appearing to be playing by the rules is innate. Which makes sense; if I can get a little more than everyone else and not get noticed (keep my head!), I will in the long run (and my progeny) come out ahead. If I’m ahead, if I can create stories that make that situation stable and preserve it, and interleave those with our standard stories on morality (or even better, make them the norm of morality), well then.

And so, we can tackle Haidt’s premise from several angles, and we always come to the same conclusion: He does not, and likely cannot, actually demonstrate that we need more conservative thinking in society to build a better society than the one we have!

20

Yankee 02.20.17 at 4:45 am

Boyd and Richerson think about two ways people learn how to do things (eg, acquire technology): by imitation or by experimentation/innovation, which maps more or less onto conservatives and progressives. When they put it that way, I think clearly you want a mix, and B&R do much math over optimal evolutionary strategies for competing societies.

… so why are conservatives not also people who like to “organize the elements of life in a rational way”? The other people are the Radicals or Iconoclasts. The university is a good place for them as they should be put in charge only in extremis. But here we are.

21

Ben Alpers 02.20.17 at 7:22 am

John Quiggin @18:

It’s all reminiscent of LBJ’s defense of his admittedly mediocre Supreme Court nominee, Abe Fortas – there are millions of mediocre people in the US, shouldn’t they be represented too?

You’ve got that anecdote wrong. That was Nebraska Republican Senator Roman Hruska’s defense of G. Harold Carswell, who Richard Nixon unsuccessfully nominated to the Supreme Court: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

22

John Holbo 02.20.17 at 7:45 am

Thanks for the Boy and Richardon reference, Yankee: the idea that one needs a mix of innovation and conservatism in this sense is a pretty standard one and is typically rolled out in these contexts. The thing is: it’s not clear that it is an argument for the existence of Two Great Parties – a conservative party and a progressive one. It might be an argument for having both mavericks and stalwarts in whatever (healthy) parties you’ve got. Which isn’t quite the same thing. Yet another source of ambiguity. But I’m happy to have the reference.

23

John Quiggin 02.20.17 at 8:30 am

Ben Alpers @21 Thanks for the correction. I should have Googled first.

24

Chris S 02.20.17 at 9:22 am

“He has uncovered and categorized something potentially useful, and then he makes the claim (unstated) that Conservative Moral Reasoning is superior to Liberal Moral Reasoning, and Conservative Values Build Better Societies. “

This is connected to his claim that liberals are unable to simulate Conservative Moral reasoning to the extent that conservatives can simulates Liberal Moral reasoning, and that therefore the spectrum of Conservative Values is wider – but of course, on which point see the first post.

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Z 02.20.17 at 9:55 am

An unstated premise in most of this stuff is that viewpoints strongly represented in the current distribution of opinion in the US have some kind of normative status, whereas others do not.

This is one of the most jarring point of Haidt’s heterodox academy: from my French perspective, the spectrum of political opinions represented in US universities has a lot of peculiar characteristics, and statistical underrepresentation of conservative opinions in the narrow American sense is only one of them (and not the most salient by far). In particular, his contention that “we just want to break up orthodoxy” is objectively false: he at least wants to break the orthodoxy in a very specific way.

One of the most jarring point, because his simultaneous assertions that 1) the telos of universities is truth and 2) external pressure with no reference to truth whatsoever should be exercised on universities to modify the composition of the teaching body remains the uncontested champion.

26

Z 02.20.17 at 10:06 am

On the main topic of the post, I am fully with Phil @7. The real Durkheim is very far from Haidt’s account, almost diametrically so in some cases.

Phil already dealt with anomie, but “the basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions” and “A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one’s groups over concerns for out-groups.” is… let me try idiosyncratic (OK, completely false) as a summary of Durkheim. In reality, of course, one of the first insights of Durkheim is that mechanic solidarity (what Haidt would call loyalty to the in-group or the solidarity which prevails in a family) is superseded by organic solidarity, which of course does not mean that it grew in the course of a gradual development (an English connotation that is largely absent in the original French), but which means that it comes from the different roles different people play when they work in interdependence (just like different organs constitute a body); so that the great moral contribution of industrialized societies is that an individual can experience solidarity towards the “out-group” because he understands he depends on them and they on him. Yep, pretty much the reverse of the meaning Haidt attributes to the term.

Not that I keep a scorecard, but Haidt got wrong Marx’s “do not interpret the world, change it” and Durkheim’s “organic solidarity” even though reading the relevant damn Wikipedia page would have made it clear, in both cases. Perhaps it is time to pass to something else (or not, I enjoy shooting fishes in barrels quite a good deal).

27

casmilus 02.20.17 at 10:34 am

“how and why, and to what degree, does it make sense to say that we need a balance of ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’ – left and right: progressive and conservative, call it what you will – as an epistemic optimum?”

Because a large segment of the population can be regarded as “conservative”, to varying degrees, on various questions. Only a minority tick all the boxes indicated as important by their self-appointed intellectual represntatives (characters like Rod Dreher, mostly), but it would be good to be aware of the best versions of their positions, as part of negotiating with them over legislation. Otherwise we get the “remote liberal elite” that I’m sick to death of hearing about.

In short: it’s instrumentally useful to have token conservatives on campus, to help future liberal politicians prepare for meeting them on the campaign trail in Sunderland and Ohio.

28

John Quiggin 02.20.17 at 11:25 am

“This is connected to his claim that liberals are unable to simulate Conservative Moral reasoning to the extent that conservatives can simulates Liberal Moral reasoning, “

To restate from a previous thread, liberals attempting to simulate conservative moral reasoning produced a bunch of hypocritical racists who would eagerly vote for someone like Trump – not at all the serious moralists Haidt found the Republican base to be.

29

Pretendous 02.20.17 at 3:14 pm

John’s questioning the scope, or breadth of relevant field, within which Haidt should be seeking ideological balance has put me in mind of a similar question. Something like the ‘unit of analysis.’ Should we be considering the individual person as the unit within which ideology is measured such that balanced departments, universities, countries, etc… are reflected by proportional representation by human beings? Why not expect some unit of actions (e.g. papers published) to be the way we measure and attempt to balance ideology, since these are the actual objects that people consume and interpret and respond to?

30

steven johnson 02.20.17 at 3:38 pm

It is unclear why universities need conservative ideologues as professors. The curriculum is going to provide as much tradition as any sane person could want. If the transmission of established knowledge somehow doesn’t count as conservation, then Haidt’s entire oeuvre is BS.

31

Patrick 02.20.17 at 3:53 pm

This organic society “tried and tested norms for handling free riders and ensuring cooperation” stuff never passed the smell test.

Imagine having a conversation with someone who keeps insisting to you that thousands of years of human history went into developing and perfecting the horse and buggy as a means of travel and transport, and we throw it away at our peril. And so you keep asking the obvious questions. A train can transport thousands of tons of coal. A buggy can’t. A plane can get you across the country in hours. A buggy can’t. A highway system can deliver goods to a thousand grocery stores in a thousand cities without them spoiling in transit. Even a bunch of buggies working together can’t. Doesn’t this show that the buggy must at the very least be supplemented with other options?

And this person angrily explains to you that buggies really can carry thousands of tons of coal, you’re just using them wrong, and no one needs to cross a country in hours, and grocery stores are an imaginary invention of the liberal elite crafted to convince the government to give them that sweet, sweet roads maintenance and engineering funding. You later find out that somehow the buggy guy got hired to run a trucking company, and immediately shifted to an all buggy system and prohibited his employees from discussing supermarkets. Goods are piling up unshipped because his buggy system can’t keep up, and his company is failing.

Presumably you’d think this guy was a crackpot.

So conservative norms are good at helping us with free riding and we reject them at our peril? What’s the track record of conservative norms against the prisoners dilemmas and tragedies of the commons we see in real life? Will conservative norms help us prevent overfishing a shared ocean? No, the opposite. Will they help us avoid polluting a shared environment? No, the opposite. Will conservative norms preserve traditions of decorum and fair play in politics? The idea is almost comical, by modern Trump standards the GOOD conservatives are the ones who threatened to force a national debt default in order to extract unrelated policy concessions! Will conservative norms at least stop people from grabbing power by continuously lying about easily verified factual matters to an audience they know to be too trusting to check? Not even close.

Everywhere I look I see conservatives using conservative norms to argue for a “We always default of prisoners dilemmas and if you don’t do the same you’re a YUGE LOSER! SAD!” mentality.

So apparently, arguing purely from pragmatism and observable reality, whatever merits conservatism may have as a social ideology, its failing to address some pretty major modern social concerns, and its defenders are levying it to actively seek to make those problems worse.

32

bianca steele 02.20.17 at 5:21 pm

“I just want Bentham to read Durkheim and recognize that we are Homo duplex before he tells any of us, or our legislators, how to go about maximizing that total good.”

Since this is impossible (of course only a literal-minded, metaphor-blind probable-autistic wouldn’t understand it), what could it mean (keeping in mind that someone who has to THINK about it instead of intuiting it directly (or at worst asking a “native informant”) is pretty certainly already on the wrong track)? Presumably this is a metaphor and we are permitted to read “Bentham” as “any utilitarian in the room”. How could such a person prove that she (or he) isn’t a semi-autistic, excluded for some reason from the common sense of society, but a person capable of participating in the society’s discussion practices? Hm.

33

Pavel 02.20.17 at 5:47 pm

It’s possible to advance the argument that modern conservative ideas are stronger manifestations of various forms of cognitive bias and fallacy. “Othering”, virulent tribalism, Dunning-Kruger, “Common Sense”, Sunken Cost Fallacy and a whole host of others seem to comprise everyday conservative thinking. This isn’t to say that Liberals are free of cognitive bias by any means, but there is significantly more recognition of these effects within Liberal intellectualism (and the inherent limits of “rational” thought). If this is the case, it means that conservative ideas will always have representation in the fabric of society, since biases and fallacies pop up unbidden like virtual particles in the depths of space. It also means that it is counter-productive to give those ideas (at least as they are currently defined) formal representation within intellectual establishments.

The counter-argument is that conservative thought is more than just a collection of atavistic biases and fallacies, it’s a deep Burkean tradition of gradual change and incorporation of past wisdom, won through millennia of social experimentation, into present-day decision-making.

The counter-counter-argument is: where the hell is it now, at its hour of greatest need? Trump represents no part of Cold War wisdom or any serious part of American history (except for Andrew Jackson and Huey Long). These stalwart traditionalists should be screaming at the top of their lungs about the degradation of the office of the President and the loss of American prestige on the world stage, as well as the alienation of large swathes of society. Yet, they remain silent… probably because they’ve died out and were never replaced by anything (well, they were replaced by infowars, et al).

34

Kiwanda 02.20.17 at 7:00 pm

There’s a lot here about how Haidt wants more conservatives on campus:
but there’s already lots of conservatives elsewhere;
but Haidt says he wants more truth on campus, and conservatives are wrong;
but who can say what a real “balance” is;
but Durkheim, Mill, Trilling, Bentham, Kant, yada yada yada.

And, that *really important* gotcha about how Haidt’s Moral Foundations stuff contradicts his later concerns, looked at the right way, etc.

So what does Haidt actually say? He says: “We don’t care about balance. We don’t need every view to be represented. We just want to break up orthodoxy.” So no, all that stuff about conservatives and ideological balance is not really on point.

His views, at least as discussed on his slides, are that:
Universities could be (should be) about the pursuit of truth;
Pursuit of social justice (or any other purpose, e.g. profit) leads to motivated reasoning for that purpose, not for the purpose of finding the truth;
Lack of anybody to argue against leads to strongly held but weakly supported views: open argument serves scholarship;
A culture of victim-hood and safety leads to fragility and moral dependency;
Currently UChicago has declared for scholarship, Brown for social justice (and e.g. Wheaton for religion).

I guess it’s all very, uh, academic, until you’ve been subject to a Title IX investigation for your opinions or offensive classroom hypotheticals, or the Bias Response Team has been alerted to your pronoun failures. And sure, there’s bigger shitstorms in the world. But still.

35

Sebastian H 02.20.17 at 7:23 pm

“But PC is very morally broad-based, in Haidt’s own sense. So if the problem were moral narrowness, per se, repressive PC-culture should solve it, not exemplify it.”

Ugh, this seems like taking things to abstraction for no reason.

Yes, at some level of abstraction, the impulse to PC-culturism could be defined as a form of conservatism (you try to shut people up if they disagree with you in order to preserve the power of your own views to go unquestioned). But that seems like a philosophical toy game rather than a useful way of looking at things (Look I can define anything as anything else if I am permitted to take it to arbitrary levels of abstraction).

In actual fact, as currently practiced in the university, PC culture is being used to empower the more left side of the political spectrum by attempting to suppress the right side.

A huge portion of this discussion seems like a mix up between temperamental concerns (it is good to have people who want to forge forward so you can expand knowledge and proficiency, and it is good to have people who try to keep what is good about the current state from falling apart as we forge forward so you don’t accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater) and political philosophical concerns (it is good to have people from both sides of common large scale political debates around otherwise you get sucked into echo chambers that lose touch with the rest of the country).

So you seem to be saying that PC-ism sort of comes from a more conservative [temperamental] impulse if you look at just right, but then you forge forward as if that said anything useful about having people around from both sides of the political debate.

It seems underappreciated that when you exclude, you tend to radicalize. When you include, you tend to domesticate. (Liberals understand this in other contexts, like the wisdom of not being overinclusive with “Islamist”). Like everything in the human sphere, there are indeed edge cases where that isn’t true. But in general it is a concept with explanatory force. It ties yet again with all of the recent tribalism discussions around here. If you try to exclude too much of the population from what counts as ‘tribe’ you’re going to get hurt politically.

So the PC concern is that it is a weapon being used to ‘otherize’ in a way that is dangerous to the university because it strongly to contributes to the university becoming an echo chamber (reducing the number of expolorable topics to such an extent that important truths won’t be dealt with) while simultaneously creating a larger and larger group of people who feel cast out of the tribe of ‘university-like people’ which tends to radicalize those people.

I can already forsee the direction that my argument will be nit-picked [lets talk about hypotheticals, lets talk about edge cases]. Edge cases are of infinite amusement to philosophers, but they tend to obscure agreement on the core cases. The core cases are 1) echo chambers that get too disconnected from their grounding are dangerous because they can’t perceive important things going on around them, 2) a co-opting dynamic tends to be better than a radicalizing dynamic if the group you are talking about seems to have about 50% of the votes in your country, 3) universities in the US seem to be falling into both traps with the current iteration of PC culture (other iterations of PC culture might have other problems).

The main form of response across the threads appears to be “the political right has nothing interesting to say so it doesn’t hurt to exclude them”.

That would be a safer conclusion if Brexit hadn’t just happened and then if right afterwards Trump hadn’t gotten elected, and if in the immediate future it didn’t seem eerily possible that France might have a disaster where both candidates in the second round could be influenced strongly by the right.

36

AcademicLurker 02.20.17 at 8:37 pm

Doesn’t this talk about how “the University” excludes conservatives ignore the existence of Business schools, Engineering schools, departments of Economics & etc.? Those aren’t known for being overwhelmingly liberal, and last I checked most large universities had them.

If you focus on only certain disciplines, then there’s a stronger case. But in that case, it would be more accurate to say “these disciplines” exclude conservatives, rather than “the University”.

37

gda 02.20.17 at 9:11 pm

LeeH@19
“Thinking conservatively would mean, by definition, using the recorded wisdom of society to inform one’s decision. Alternately, thinking liberally (in the sense that liberal is the opposite of conservative) would mean deriving morality from ‘first principles’”

Take an average Joe on the street and ask him to make an instantaneous “moral Judgement”. What does from “first principles” mean to him? How does he make that decision? Off the cuff? Bereft of any imparted wisdom from X hundred years of customs/norms/civilization? Please!

Or perhaps there is a cast of brahmins who are uniquely suited to “deriving morality from ‘first principles”‘? Will they be educating our average Joe? Telling him what to do/say? Whispering in his ear, all the time? Will you be among that caste?

Perhaps, in contrast to your conclusion, you actually demonstrated “that we need MORE conservative thinking in society to build a better society than the one we have!”

38

Steve 02.20.17 at 10:36 pm

Off the main topic, but I have some memory that Matt Yglesias was propelled from obscure blogger to famous(ish) journalist by having Tim Scanlon respond to his post about Harvard photocopying rules. I don’t have a clue why I know this, but it returned to me reading the comments above and I thought I’d never have another chance to mention it.

39

Faustusnotes 02.20.17 at 10:43 pm

Hey Kiwanda, your hero milo just got uninvited from CPAC for being pro paedophilia. Looks like comservatives like to choose their speakers according to the content of their speech too, like liberal snowflakes. Do you think CPACZ should be obliged to offer him a platform for paedophilia advocacy of is that only something liberal professors should be obliged to do? Where do you think haidt stands on the Ned for paedophilia advocacy in the broad intellectual base of academia?

And are you proud of the hero whose free speech you have been so ardently defending?

40

Cranky Observer 02.20.17 at 11:14 pm

= = = It seems underappreciated that when you exclude, you tend to radicalize. When you include, you tend to domesticate. = = =

I have a t-shirt that is solid black with just the word “liberal” in small lower case. I invite you to wear it to any public gathering in a suburban or exurban area of any red it purple state. I believe the results would be instructive for your analysis of inclusiveness.

= = = if the group you are talking about seems to have about 50% of the votes in your country, = = =

The Republicans control 40-45% of the vote in the US, and the hard Radical Right ~20%. The architects of the Constitution were concerned that the nation – then ~30% urban – might come to be dominated by city-dwellers and their cosmopolitan ideas (e. g. Abolitionism) and arranged things so that rural minorities could control events. State constitutions written after 1790 followed suit. The nation is now 80% urban and a wide swathe of USians are effectively disenfranchised. Particularly those who oppose neo white supremacy. Funny how that worked out.

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John Quiggin 02.20.17 at 11:17 pm

That would be a safer conclusion if Brexit hadn’t just happened and then if right afterwards Trump hadn’t gotten elected, and if in the immediate future it didn’t seem eerily possible that France might have a disaster where both candidates in the second round could be influenced strongly by the right.

That certainly implies that the racist version of populism is an important object of social science study. It doesn’t imply that universities should hire racist social scientists. Again the comparison Islamist theocracy is relevant. We obviously need to understand this better, but not by appointing lots of theocrats.

42

Kiwanda 02.21.17 at 12:47 am

faustusnotes:

Hey Kiwanda, your hero milo….

No, try again.

43

Sebastian H 02.21.17 at 1:02 am

“That certainly implies that the racist version of populism is an important object of social science study. “

This assumes the conclusion (that the conservatives you are keeping out of the university are beholden to racist populism instead of the idea that you might discover something else if you knew them). It also doesn’t deal with the related problem of the echo chamber. Nor does it deal with the problem of radicalization by exclusion instead of co-opting by including.

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temp 02.21.17 at 1:22 am

Or is the idea, rather, that we know Millian liberalism shall be our master value (because we know it’s true?) But, in order to keep the quality of the liberal kayfabe up, we need real conservatives on campus to act as convincing sparring partners?

I think this is basically correct. I would hope Haidt would acknowledge this but maybe he wouldn’t for whatever reason.

But you need some logically-unfounded master value, yes? There’s no way to avoid it. If Haidt had made an argument for utilitarianism, it would have to be on the basis of some more fundamental moral principles which themselves have no logical foundation.

Skepticism is very useful in practice, radical skepticism isn’t. We need some SJWs, and/or conservatives, and/or theocratic Muslisms, to break the liberal orthodoxy, but we can’t let any one of these groups become too dominant, because the liberal orthodoxy is ultimately correct on the most fundamental values (there’s no way to demonstrate this, it’s just true). Yet in practice these groups serve useful functions because left alone (or perhaps jointly with some on the left less committed to liberalism) liberals will get a lot wrong aside from our most fundamental values.

This isn’t just a vague sense that things are off, as you imply. Social science is in a replication crisis. Much that was thought to be true probably isn’t, and the errors tend to be in the direction of support for progressive values. There’s no perfect way of calibrating the ideological balance, but there’s fairly strong evidence that it’s off right now and could use some correction. We need ideological diversity in universities not to question (some version of) Millian liberalism, or utilitarianism, or the use of logic and evidence in argument–these can all be accepted on faith–but to demand more rigor and offer contrary points of view on the higher-level stuff that most social scientists are researching, which is probably mostly wrong because empiricism is hard.

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J-D 02.21.17 at 1:25 am

Kiwanda

I guess it’s all very, uh, academic, until you’ve been subject to a Title IX investigation for your opinions or offensive classroom hypotheticals, or the Bias Response Team has been alerted to your pronoun failures. And sure, there’s bigger shitstorms in the world. But still.

The fact that investigations are distressing for the people being investigated is, by itself, insufficient justification for the conclusion that the investigations should not be conducted.

As it happens, for me this is not a purely hypothetical (or academic) point. I have actually had the experience of having serious allegations made against me that were (as it happened) baseless (that is, I know they were baseless; but if you don’t feel disposed to take my word for it, I have no means of persuading you). It wasn’t pleasant for me to have the relevant agency investigate the allegations, but they were correct to do so.

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PatinIowa 02.21.17 at 1:35 am

This would be a less uncomfortable discussion if I didn’t live in Iowa.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/20/iowa-senator-wants-political-balance-among-university-professors/98167182/

He’s a troll, but given what the legislature is up to in other areas, I wouldn’t get too comfortable.

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John Holbo 02.21.17 at 2:07 am

Sebastian H: “Yes, at some level of abstraction, the impulse to PC-culturism could be defined as a form of conservatism”

No, I’m not saying this. This is precisely why I take it to this level of abstraction, Sebastian: to show that there is slippage between morally broad-based, in Haidt’s sense, and conservative. Haidt wants to run these things together. I want to keep them separate.

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Sebastian H 02.21.17 at 2:34 am

On rereading you once again, it is possible that I’m not understanding you at all, but it strikes me that introducing a bit of Bayes wouldn’t hurt.

Now I know you’re ascribing this to Haidt (i.e. it isn’t your personal view) but I’m trying to steelman the Haidt position in a way that seems to get at why what his complaints are might be important even if you think the exact formulation is wrong.

“Liberalism is right, but, paradoxically, liberalism generates a temperament that is incapable of sustaining liberalism. Liberalism needs to infuse itself with – inoculate itself with – anti-liberalism, lest it itself become anti-liberal. Never trust a liberal to run liberalism. They’ll screw it up.”

How about Liberalism has a high probability of being mostly right, but paradoxically, the way it plays out in universities generates a temperament which compounds on the areas where it might be wrong and which undermines its functioning in wider communities. Liberalism need to constantly challenge itself with outside ideas and co-opt them lest it become moldy and self-absorbed, eventually slipping into illiberalism by becoming too detached from the rest of reality.

And again, I haven’t read nearly as much of Haidt as you have, so maybe my complaint is more with him than you. But it seems like you may be ascribing to him THOUGHTS ABOUT LIBERALISM IN GENERAL which are really most appropriately THOUGHTS ABOUT LIBERALISM AT UNIVERSITIES.

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Pavel 02.21.17 at 2:38 am

@gda

I would agree with you, if conservative thought covered the whole range of human history and experience. Instead, it covers a narrow range of cherry-picked, white, male and largely Christian ideas almost exclusively from the West (i.e Europe, US) of the 19th Century. Most conservative ideas are actually fairly new and almost completely historically untested (see Globalism, Free Trade, deregulated Capitalism). For example, modern conservative ideas about masculinity, reproduction and homosexuality didn’t exist until the late-18th to early 19th centuries. For hundreds of years prior to that, Europeans accepted that men were emotional beings and could have sex with other men so long as they fulfilled social duties related to land inheritance (i.e. produced heirs in a loveless marriage). The definition of family, marriage and work has also changed significantly in the last 100-200 years or so (we’re no longer yeoman farmers trying to craft advantageous family alliances). Racism, nationalism and patriotism are likewise relatively new ideas (also 19th century) that have had almost completely disastrous consequences (yet conservatives fail to learn from *these* historical ideas). Modern conservatism is a narrow and almost completely unrelatable representation of historical experience.

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faustusnotes 02.21.17 at 2:54 am

Oh Kiwanda, where is your staunch defense of free speech now? Surely CPAC should be obliged to allow this man to hold forth at great and annoying length about how paedophilia is cool? Are you suggesting they censor him for the content of his speech!? To be so illiberal … it’s shocking!

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b9n10nt 02.21.17 at 3:08 am

Any advocate of increasing right wing influence on campus has the strongest case when arguing for token inclusion among research programs within the social sciences. (Aside: here thinking regionally or even nationally is more appropriate than at the level of “campus”).

Yet, advocates for a right turn in Academy focus not on research but pc correctness from the profs: that is, campus culture among the students as influenced by the profs. These are not well founded concerns for many reasons*. And really, since we’re not talking about specific examples of systemic exclusion of well-founded and influential concepts in the social sciences there’s no case of a clear instructional rot..In summary: they got nothin.

*my particular reason is derived from a hypothesis that taboos are a likely result of human group dynamics whenever socializing is occurring. Noticing, enforcing, and transgressing taboos provide opportunities for issues of group definition and status to be worked out. In this context, I argue that there is, of course,’a left wing taboo culture but that it has spontaneously arisen, is not decidedly malignant l, and there’s hardly a choice to not have a taboo culture take root in any social discourse, so let it be.

also This!
Conditioned for want
My will was soon sold
I took insight for Kant
And used Haidt as a scold.

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John Holbo 02.21.17 at 3:54 am

Sebastian H: “How about Liberalism has a high probability of being mostly right, but paradoxically, the way it plays out in universities generates a temperament which compounds on the areas where it might be wrong and which undermines its functioning in wider communities. Liberalism need to constantly challenge itself with outside ideas and co-opt them lest it become moldy and self-absorbed, eventually slipping into illiberalism by becoming too detached from the rest of reality.”

The problem with this is not that it’s implausible, or even wrong. The problem is that it’s really about eight different arguments in one, under cover ambiguities in ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and in other ways as well. The argument gains plausibility from several overlays of different senses in which it might be right. I don’t mind that, either. But I hope to find the time to tease apart all those overlays to show that, although some of them might be good – and at least a few are certainly worth something! – many of them are quite bad. And some of the good ones are inconsistent with some of the others. And a lot of the time even the ones that are good shouldn’t just be overlaid like that.

In Bayesian terms – I’m happy to be a Bayesian! – I think we should focus on how we have a lot of different ‘what is the likeliehood of A, given B’ solutions we are trying to solve for, for different values of A and B.

1. What is the likelihood that universities would be healthier places with more conservatives, given the facts about how few conservatives are currently professors?

2. What is the likelihood that the ideal political system is a kind of eternal battle between Two Great Parties – of Change and Not-Change – given such-and-such facts about human psychology?

3. What is the likelihood that universities should have an even mix of liberals and conservatives, given that our calculation for 2 comes out ‘likely’?

My complaint about Haidt is that he finds a certain move to be obvious because, I suspect, he has an intuitive sense it’s overdetermined by various arguments in its favor, such that he isn’t much motivated to decide which argument he’s buying. But I think it makes a big difference which argument you buy.

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Kiwanda 02.21.17 at 4:10 am

faustusnotes:

Surely CPAC should be obliged to allow this man….

No, try again.

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Sebastian H 02.21.17 at 6:22 am

John, I guess one of my problems with your approach thus far is that you seem to be addressing all the ambiguities in the most ambiguous way possible instead of trying to solidify any of them.

I would tend to say to your numbered questions:

1. very likely–high enough probability that you would need strong evidence against to move the priors.

2. I would tend toward somewhat more likely than not but it wouldn’t take so much to move me. I would say both temperaments need to be listened to for a society to be healthy. I’m not sure they need to be mixed into separate parties per se.

3. This is a bad formulation. I would say that the university should be no more than one standard deviation or so off the society as a whole or it risks dangerously losing touch. Now it may be that there is some ideal mix in the society as a whole, but I think that is a different argument.

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John Holbo 02.21.17 at 7:13 am

“John, I guess one of my problems with your approach thus far is that you seem to be addressing all the ambiguities in the most ambiguous way possible instead of trying to solidify any of them.”

Yes, I’m burying the lede, rather. If and when I get to the final post, I’ll try to address this point.

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Z 02.21.17 at 8:11 am

@Kiwanda

His views, at least as discussed on his slides, are that:
Universities could be (should be) about the pursuit of truth;

Yes, and the way they organized to achieve this goal has been to recruit researchers in autonomy, by peers and based on scholarship. This is not a perfect system a all (absent a strong norm against local hiring, it can quickly devolves into nepotism and it is slightly too sensitive to academic fads, for instance) but in the last 300 years, it proved vastly superior to every other alternative. If the outcome is that 99% of the teaching body is black or left-handed or rarely wears socks (the last item being somewhat true in my department) and if you don’t like that, well tough luck.

Pursuit of social justice (or any other purpose, e.g. profit) leads to motivated reasoning for that purpose, not for the purpose of finding the truth;

Yes, and precisely for that reason we should be extremely wary of any argument of the form “there should be more professors regularly wearing socks in our department; it’d be good for scholarship.”

Lack of anybody to argue against leads to strongly held but weakly supported views: open argument serves scholarship;

Maybe (the argument has some plausibility, but it is by no means obvious; after all, real scholarship is characterized both by a strong bias towards inclusivity in theory-any idea may be considered-but an equally strong bias towards exclusion in practice-any idea that has been shown to be wrong is abandoned), but even taking it for granted, you know what serves scholarship a good deal more: independently evaluating scholars based on their scholarship, not on whether they wear socks or not.

A culture of victim-hood and safety leads to fragility and moral dependency;

That seems somewhat plausible to me. For that reason, I tend to not take very seriously the complaint of sock-wearing academics that feel excluded from academia. They should man up, publish outstanding papers and thereby prove that one can succeed in academia while wearing socks.

Now I hope you see the problem: Haidt’s argument is 1) self-contradictory and 2) hypocritical (in that it is based on a general principle which is then applied exclusively to a very specific case). If the goal of Universities is to find truths, then how researchers self-identify within the American political system and all its peculiarities, or their clothing habits, or their familial background should have precisely zero impact on how they are hired and promoted. And if the outcome of the process is that there are zero professor wearing a tie to work, or that only 5% voted for Trump, or that only 5% grew up in a working-class family (by the way, notice that Haidt never mentions that last type of imbalance, even though his argument about variety of opinions applies at least equally well), this should be of no concern.

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faustusnotes 02.21.17 at 8:31 am

So in a truly remarkable piece of free speech absolutism, universities are obliged to allow people like Milo to come onto campus to harass their own students (indeed, universities are required to tolerate people with views like Milo in order to furnish a haidt-style broad church of intellectual endeavour) but the conservative movement is not obliged to allow people like Milo to come into their halls and harass their own members with views that they find confronting; no haidt-style broad church of intellectual ideals for conservatives – that only applies to liberals. Because of the first amendment, right?

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Z 02.21.17 at 8:35 am

@Sebastian H

It seems underappreciated that when you exclude, you tend to radicalize. When you include, you tend to domesticate.

I don’t think that including people in order to domesticate them should be a goal of universities important enough so as to warrant a modification of hiring practices, especially if one is concerned with the quality of scholarship.

So the PC concern is that it is a weapon being used to ‘otherize’ in a way that is dangerous to the university because it strongly to contributes to the university becoming an echo chamber (reducing the number of expolorable topics to such an extent that important truths won’t be dealt with)

I don’t buy it. My experience of academia (both in the scientific field and in the more literary field in which I have experience) is that there is a very strong premium given to refutations: if you can manage to show that something somewhat widely believed is wrong, you get a good publication. So I don’t buy that people self-identifying in the same way in the American political spectrum or sharing an upper-middle class background or sharing a mild distaste of socks will miss important truths because of that (or more precisely, I think that trying to exercise outside influence on hiring practices to remedy any of these imbalances is significantly worse)

while simultaneously creating a larger and larger group of people who feel cast out of the tribe of ‘university-like people’ which tends to radicalize those people.

I think this is certainly true descriptively and a very worrying prospect, but inclusion is the business of the civil society and of the political system, not of the research component of universities, whose business is producing scholarship.

The main form of response across the threads appears to be “the political right has nothing interesting to say so it doesn’t hurt to exclude them”.

The way I see it, the (American) political right is a political construction (a shocking opinion, I know) so it has many interesting things to say in terms of policies (for some value of interesting) and far from being shunned, the whole world listens carefully to them (with growing terror). However, and without contradiction, it might very well be that very few people identifying with it politically produce scholarly work good enough to warrant a scholarly career. Two different things, you see. I don’t know if you guys know Pascal on your side of the Atlantic, but he said something relevant.

“La tyrannie consiste au désir de domination universel et hors de son ordre.

Diverses chambres, de forts, de beaux, de bons esprits, de pieux, dont chacun règne chez soi, non ailleurs, et quelquefois ils se rencontrent. Et le fort et le beau se battent sottement à qui sera le maître l’un de l’autre, car leur maîtrise est de divers genre. Ils ne s’entendent pas. Et leur faute est de vouloir régner partout. Rien ne le peut, non pas même la force. Elle ne fait rien au royaume des savants. Elle n’est maîtresse que des actions extérieures.”

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Z 02.21.17 at 8:40 am

Oh, and by the way and completely OT “France might have a disaster where both candidates in the second round could be influenced strongly by the right.” The most likely (but not by far) alternative at the moment is that the second round will oppose a very talented woman from the far-right (Trump in every respect except her vastly superior talent) and an equally talented soft neoliberal closeted gay man. An unlikely pair in many respects for French politics.

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casmilus 02.21.17 at 10:35 am

@52

“The problem with this is not that it’s implausible, or even wrong. The problem is that it’s really about eight different arguments in one, under cover ambiguities in ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and in other ways as well. The argument gains plausibility from several overlays of different senses in which it might be right.”

That’s how most actually-existing debates proceed. It’s why lots of people have thought that definitional clarity and theoretical precision might be helpful, though in practice they just spawn academic subcultures despised/ignored for their “irrelevance”.

*Which* conservatives do we want more of on campus? The clever boys in tweed jackets, who read Burke and Oakeshott and Weaver and Voegelin and other fancy names that are as remote from most Tory or Republican voters as Deleuze or Lacan? Or do we want the sons and daughters of those actual voters? In which case we might also look to broaden the “left” majority to have a social mix that includes, for example, youths directly affected by austerity policies, instead of just those who’ve read about them.

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casmilus 02.21.17 at 10:54 am

62

John Quiggin 02.21.17 at 11:27 am

Sebastian “This assumes the conclusion (that the conservatives you are keeping out of the university are beholden to racist populism instead of the idea that you might discover something else if you knew them)”

We already have ample evidence for that conclusion, most recently the fact that they voted for Trump, which was the reason you gave for taking them seriously. More generally, if they have impressive ideas that we are yet to discover, they’ve done a pretty good job of hiding them for the last 30 years of so.

To rephrase the claim that was the smart idea before the election, I take Trump and his supporters seriously, but not respectfully.

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engels 02.21.17 at 1:47 pm

I think this is certainly true descriptively and a very worrying prospect, but inclusion is the business of the civil society and of the political system, not of the research component of universities, whose business is producing scholarship.

Problem is restricting participation in the production of scholarship to members of specific social groups tends to influence its content in ways that aren’t exactly healthy

64

Scott P. 02.21.17 at 2:27 pm

Sebastian: “Nor does it deal with the problem of radicalization by exclusion instead of co-opting by including.”

My question is a more practical one: what form could this ‘exclusion’ or its inverse ‘inclusion’ take? Having participated in university-level searches, I can say absolutely that we are barred from asking any questions about the candidate’s personal life or belief. Most of the time there is no way of knowing their political affiliation. There might be a narrow sliver of disciplines where it could be inferred from their scholarly or creative work, but that is fairly unusual. So there is no legal way of hiring more conservative faculty even if we wanted to.

It is true that occasionally a candidate will stray into a political topic. But I can attest that, at least in our formal and informal discussions as faculty, I’ve never heard that presented as a reason to vote for or against a candidate.

So we’re left with potential accusations of soft bias and disparate outcomes, to be rectified (presumably) by some sort of affirmative action program, I guess. Which is exactly the kind of argument that conservatives tend to reject. Seriously: what is Haidt’s proposed solution to this supposed problem?

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temp 02.21.17 at 3:28 pm

So we’re left with potential accusations of soft bias and disparate outcomes, to be rectified (presumably) by some sort of affirmative action program, I guess. Which is exactly the kind of argument that conservatives tend to reject. Seriously: what is Haidt’s proposed solution to this supposed problem?
It is indeed some sort of affirmative action program. See the “Solutions” page on the Heterodox Academy website. Conservatives may tend to reject this kind of argument, but most of the Heterodox Academy types are not actually conservatives.

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Z 02.21.17 at 3:46 pm

Problem is restricting participation in the production of scholarship to members of specific social groups tends to influence its content in ways that aren’t exactly healthy

At the moment, restricting participation in the production of scholarship is achieved based on the quality of past scholarship. This has the statistical consequence that participation is in practice restricted to members of specific social groups (non-socks wearing mathematicians, linguists from Iceland, upper middle-class background everywhere) and, yes, that is not very healthy. So I’m not saying that this is ideal, but any practical suggestion that more attention should be given to peculiar social characteristics of the applicants to the detriment of the quality of their scholarship sounds way mire unhealthy to me. How does “Look, your scholarship is just so-so, but your parents were working class so you’re hired!” look like to you? If it is offered with the stated intent to increase the quality of the scholarship, it sounds self-contradictory. If it is offered for a specific social characteristic but not for equally plausible other ones, it sounds hypocritical.

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bob mcmanus 02.21.17 at 4:10 pm

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Kiwanda 02.21.17 at 4:53 pm

Z:

…it proved vastly superior to every other alternative. If the outcome is that 99% of the teaching body is black or left-handed or rarely wears socks (the last item being somewhat true in my department) and if you don’t like that, well tough luck.

So: hiring for e.g. diversity, bad.

…we should be extremely wary of any argument of the form “there should be more professors regularly wearing socks in our department; it’d be good for scholarship.”

Again, hiring for e.g. diversity, bad.

…you know what serves scholarship a good deal more: independently evaluating scholars based on their scholarship, not on whether they wear socks or not.

So, hiring and promotion based entirely on scholarship and ignoring all other criteria.

I’m surprised to come across here such a straight-up call to end any and all affirmative action. Are you sure there are not at least some secondary criteria you would support for hiring, ceterus paribus, one scholar over another?

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Kiwanda 02.21.17 at 5:11 pm

faustusnotes

Congratulations, faustusnotes! It took a few tries, but you succeeded in saying something that didn’t grossly misrepresent the person you were commenting on. Great job!

And actually, well, yes, at least in the U.S., partisan political organizations and public universities differ in their purposes and legal status, in what is required of them, and what we might hope from them. Protections for speech are legally required of public universities, and free inquiry is a value that at least some of us would like to see at all universities. Partisan political organizations are a different thing. Not true where you are?

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Chris S 02.21.17 at 5:42 pm

“This assumes the conclusion (that the conservatives you are keeping out of the university are beholden to racist populism instead of the idea that you might discover something else if you knew them).”

Just digging into this a little further; this suggests that there was a set of people who weren’t listened to, and because they weren’t listened to another set of people turned to racist populism.

Or .. what were the Conservative ideas that the people now turning to racist populism wanted listening to instead? Conservative ideas which were presumably limited to the ones being articulated by the set of people who were not listened to by academia

Because it sounds somewhat like magical thinking to me (as well as ignoring the Conservative consensus on economics), and additionally throws the concept of personal moral agency (which conservatives are big on) out of the window.

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gda 02.21.17 at 5:53 pm

Pavel@49

Firstly, you will note I use conservative, rather than Conservative. A world of difference.

“…it covers a narrow range of cherry-picked, white, male and largely Christian ideas almost exclusively from the West (i.e Europe, US) of the 19th Century.”

Have you read “Human Accomplishment” by Charles Murray? Have a look at the 30 “Giants” he identifies. There are 21 who came after 1400, 18 after 1600. All but 1 of the 14 in the sciences comes from Europe (1 from NA). ALL are dead white males (come to mention it, all 30 were male). I’m afraid that dead, white, European males really DO rule!

“nationalism and patriotism are likewise relatively new ideas (also 19th century) that have had almost completely disastrous consequences (yet conservatives fail to learn from *these* historical ideas)”

Tell me, have progressives learned any lessons from the failure of “diversity”, “Multiculturalism” et al? From the Robert Putnam experience what they seem to have learned is how to hide the unfortunate results.

Have they learned any lessons from the failed 50-yr attempt to eliminate the 1SD difference in black and white educational test scores? Have we reached a point, like Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average?

These two experiments cost billions (perhaps trillions) and untold misery and what lessons have been learned? I submit, none. The madness continues, unabated.

“Europeans accepted that men were emotional beings and could have sex with other men…”

Cites? Was this simply thrown out to denigrate our “dead, white, male”? The Buggery Act of 1533 in England, prescribed the death penalty for sodomy. Though the last execution was in 1837, it would seem that “hundreds of years prior to that (1837)…”, would take us back to 1533, and 300 years of “heavy manners” should one decide to “be emotional and have sex with other men”. Given those unfortunate facts, I would dispute that statement.

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John Quiggin 02.21.17 at 8:18 pm

I’ll just link back to this post, showing that academics have almost exactly the political views you would expect, given their education level and income. There’s no evidence of bias.

http://johnquiggin.com/2016/10/10/if-professors-made-500kyear-would-they-be-republicans-crosspost-from-crooked-timber/

When you recall that educated Republicans are more likely than other Repubs to be science deniers or hold other false beliefs that ought to disqualify them from an academic job, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they are over-represented.

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William Berry 02.21.17 at 8:28 pm

Iowa wants to get serious about this ideological balance thing in its state university system:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/02/21/your-purge-is-clumsy-and-obvious/

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Chip Daniels 02.21.17 at 9:29 pm

Part of what occurs to me of the disconnect in Haidt’s work is that it relies on a model of liberalism and conservatism that doesn’t seem to align with my own observations.

For instance, as was pointed out, the massive support for Trump among self-described Christians and secular conservatives demonstrates that the political movement called conservative is anything but.

They are in fact, radical reactionaries, revanchists dedicated to a restoration of a white ethnotribalism.

I’m not an academic, but even a layperson can see immediately that there is nothing remotely Burkean or Chestertonian about Paul Ryan, or Trump, or McConnell.

Its not even that they strive but fail to reach an idealized conservatism; they don’t pretend to value the ideal. The recent flap over Milo at CPAC shows this with grim clarity.

From economic policy to domestic policy to foreign policy, its radicalism and fanaticism at every turn, dedicated to smashing idols they don’t like, and restoring the ones they do.

Meanwhile, the profile of liberalism seems wildly at variance with my observations in the wild.
I find it weird that liberals are somehow devoted to “questioning authority” while simultaneously enforcing a priggish censorship on campus.
Or that they value self-expression to excess, while demanding that gay people be admitted to the role of monogamous marriage and become teachers and Scout leaders.
Or they don’t value in-group loyalty, but live in self-reinforced bubbles.

The moral foundations seem better at describing personality rather than political affiliation.

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temp 02.21.17 at 9:34 pm

As Holbo notes in this post, Haidt’s concern is epistemic justice, not distributive justice. The problem isn’t that academic hiring is unfair to conservatives, it’s that it’s really hard to do unbiased science on politically-relevant subjects when everyone in the field is in (relative) ideological agreement.

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gda 02.21.17 at 10:39 pm

“educated Republicans are more likely than other Repubs to be science deniers”

Science deniers? Actually, the correctly worded report was as follows:
“Republicans with higher levels of education are more likely than those in their parties with less education to say that the seriousness of global warming is “generally exaggerated.””

This seems reasonable to me. It is normal for someone who has the required intelligence to assess the seriousness of global warming or any other highly topical and politically charged subject and make as informed a decision as possible. Its what I did in reaching a similar conclusion. Hardly “science denying” stuff, unless you have an agenda to push.

“..or hold other false beliefs that ought to disqualify them from an academic job, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they are over-represented.”

Heavens! That’s a bit of a reach, isn’t it? Rather than using their intelligence to make a well-informed judgement John would have us instead believe that this intelligence has resulted in them contracting some sort of knuckle-dragging science denialism, as a result of which he would ban them from holding a job in academia.

Really, John. Don’t you think you need to reel it in just a little? Or get out more? Or both?

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J-D 02.22.17 at 1:47 am

The problem isn’t that academic hiring is unfair to conservatives, it’s that it’s really hard to do unbiased science on politically-relevant subjects when everyone in the field is in (relative) ideological agreement.

That isn’t true, though. To do unbiased science on politically relevant subjects you need to engage intellectually with opposing ideas, but that doesn’t mean those ideas have to be represented among your professional colleagues. For example, a historian, sociologist, anthropologist, or political scientist studying the Ku Klux Klan needs to engage intellectually with the ideas of the Ku Klux Klan, but that doesn’t mean the university has to start hiring Kluxers.

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Faustusnotes 02.22.17 at 2:12 am

Well gda you’re wrong, and if that’s the best quality of analysis conservatives can come up with there is an obvious reason why they should be under represented in academia – they’re not up to it. Stick to your coal industry funded “think” tanks if you want to pass off your confirmation bias as science.

Wegman, Lott, the R&R disaster – conservatives just aren’t very good at proving their points and when they can’t make it happen they resort to fraud and plagiarism. This is why they can’t make it in science and I suspect that the same is true of every other field where they try to get an academic stamp of approval on their dunning Kruger. Does haidt bother to look at the downsides of lowering academic standards to let people like Lott into the academy?

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JimV 02.22.17 at 2:26 am

If global warming is a politically-charged subject it’s because one party installs solar panels on the White House and the other rips them out; one party funds climate research and the other tries to identify all the supporters of climate research to get rid of them; one party brings a snowball to Congress and claims it is evidence against GW; etc. It didn’t have to be politically-charged – except for the efforts of oil and coal companies to buy political support, which mostly were effective on one side of the aisle. That’s the agenda that’s being pushed.

Any one of sufficient intelligence to ask “cui bono?” and understand a little statistical math can see where the agenda is. Whether they then consider AGW to be serious depends on whether they care what happens to future generations.

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Tramp 02.22.17 at 2:49 am

@gba, 71
An old white dude setting out to prove that white dudes have been the best at everything ever makes a list of 30 white dudes who he claims have been the best at everything ever. Who could have seen that coming?

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gda 02.22.17 at 6:14 am

J-D, admit it. Which would you rather have in academia – a person who believes the seriousness of global warming is “generally exaggerated” OR a Klu Klux Klansman?

Faustus, sill seething from that Wegman thing I see. Pity about that great graphic. Really, the guy you need to hold to account is that “back-stabbing” liberal, McIntyre.

Way to virtue signal there, JimV. Impressive. And funny you should mention statistical math, when your lot, starting with Mr. Mann himself, never really seemed to comprehend just exactly how that worked.

Ah, Tramp, you have such a way with words. Your cogent argument almost won me over.

Sorry guys, I thought I had wandered onto a Muslim blog. I had no idea it was an Islamist one.

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J-D 02.22.17 at 8:20 am

gda

J-D, admit it.

Ooh, you got me there! Ooh, burn! Ooh, I admit it! Ooh, I take the shame!

Thanks for playing. Got any more cheap fatuous rhetorical tricks you’d like to try out? I’m here all week, try the veal.

Which would you rather have in academia – a person who believes the seriousness of global warming is “generally exaggerated” OR a Klu Klux Klansman?

This is another child’s game. Why do I have to have either? I might just as well ask you whether you’d rather be bastinadoed or thumbscrewed.

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Pavel 02.22.17 at 8:20 am

@gba

I.
Have you read “Human Accomplishment” by Charles Murray?… dead white males As someone else noted, these kinds of histories set out to prove a thing, and lo and behold, through the magic of only looking at the evidence that supports their thesis, they do! Also, if you get to own all of Europe’s success stories (even though that culture has relatively little to do with your present-day culture), you also get to own all of Europe’s butchers as well. Dead white men do indeed rule… usually through great swathes of destruction and genocide.

“Tell me, have progressives learned any lessons from the failure of “diversity”, “Multiculturalism” et al?” Diversity and multiculturalism are working quite well actually, but progress can be slow given some major roadblocks. The issue seems to be the collection of powerful white men who spend the majority of their time whining about “white genocide” and how slightly more realistic representations of women and PoCs in the workforce are really oppressing *them*.

Have they learned any lessons from the failed 50-yr attempt to eliminate the 1SD difference in black and white educational test scores?
I guess your expectation is that centuries of racism (currently being reignited by the modern conservative) are going to go away anytime soon. Systemic racism, especially in the context of education, housing and employment, is embedded in the American fabric. Given your own hostility to the process, it’s not difficult to see why that is.

The Buggery Act of 1533 in England, prescribed the death penalty for sodomy…
This is a legalism fallacy. The Buggery Act did exist, but was applied inconsistently to different segments of society at different times. It wasn’t really applied to Libertines like the Earl of Rochester. It didn’t have a functional analog in the Italian states during the Renaissance either, where male relationships flourished. The negative definition of homosexuality arose in the late 18th century due to a (faulty) re-appraisal of the male role in reproduction (it’s also important to point out that this is a reflection of purely Christian mores, and is again unrepresentative of general history or even Western history as a whole).

II.
… the seriousness of global warming is “greatly exaggerated”
… and I’m sure they then went on to present a great deal of research showing alternative models and theories explaining why the CO2 emissions and acidification of the the oceans were not in fact catastrophic. Oh wait, no they didn’t. The arguments they have presented however include “defund NASA”, “it’s cold outside so AGW isn’t happening”, “something, something, solar activity!”, “it’s a Socialist Plot”, “grants corrupted climate scientists”, and some industry-funded studies that I’m sure are completely free of bias. It shouldn’t surprise you that the sets of people supporting Creationism/Intelligent Design are the same sets of people who don’t really understand how female reproductive organs work are also the same sets of people who believe that AGW isn’t a big deal. Modern conservatism is a ball of anti-scientific ignorance.

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Z 02.22.17 at 10:00 am

@Kiwanda

So: hiring for e.g. diversity, bad. […] I’m surprised to come across here such a straight-up call to end any and all affirmative action.

Well, it is time for you to clear the bar of fairly presenting the arguments of your interlocutor. I think I made it abundantly clear that hiring for the research component of universities whose main mission is the scholarly pursuit of truth should be done in autonomy, by peers and based on scholarly work (as is indeed the case in practice) if the aim is to maximize the quality of scholarship (almost a truism, in fact, but one Haidt does not comprehend). If any of the three premises does not hold, then the conclusion does not necessarily follow. In particular, your reformulation that I argued for the termination of “any and all affirmative action” is grotesque: nobody believes that the selection of undergraduate students, for instance, is or should be done with the main goal of producing the best scholarship, so of course other factors may (and do) play a role.

Are you sure there are not at least some secondary criteria you would support for hiring, ceterus paribus, one scholar over another?

If the two candidates have equally good scholarship (as hinted by your use of ceteris paribus), it is evidently fine to consider secondary criteria: that’s almost the definition of secondary criteria.

However, if indeed you want my own opinion, I am personally quite in agreement with the three premises above, so I tend to be rather OK with zero affirmative action at the level of recruiting practices for research positions (as is again indeed the actual case in practice, as Scott P described above, and I completely concur with him). Consequently, I don’t support, for instance, the revendications of some Black Lives Matter chapters to create such or such scholarly departments (that is to say, I don’t disapprove of any new department as a matter of principle, I’m just saying that if scholarly department X is to be created, it should reflect the decision of the community of scholars, not the wishes of an external association) or the Heterodox academy proposal that scientific journals deliberately seek reviewers and editors with conservative or libertarian leanings. I don’t think the current “no affirmative action” system is perfect, but I believe it is superior to alternatives, and that it is vastly superior to hypocritical alternative of the form “there are not enough conservatives (but we don’t care about whether there are enough people from a working class background)”.

That said, though it is not my preferred model, I am in fact also rather OK with a “Social Justice University” of the kind Haidt advocates for (“diversity is good, inclusion is good”). So if Haidt wants to argue that including more conservative leaning or more neo-eurasianist or more radical ecologist scholars even though their scholarship might be subpar is nevertheless a good because otherwise exclusion will radicalize them (and they may wreck the rest of society), then fine, I personally disagree but fine (that is how I understand Sebastian H’s position above, for instance). Advocating on its behalf based on a supposed dedication to quality of scholarship is however absurd (or disingenuous, or both).

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John Quiggin 02.22.17 at 11:09 am

“This seems reasonable to me.”

Why am I not surprised?

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temp 02.22.17 at 12:22 pm

That isn’t true, though. To do unbiased science on politically relevant subjects you need to engage intellectually with opposing ideas, but that doesn’t mean those ideas have to be represented among your professional colleagues.

The issue is not intellectual engagement with opposing ideas.

I’m talking about social scientists looking into difficult empirical questions that liberals would really like to turn out in a particular way.

The institution of science (not just social science) is set up to produce large quantities of false positive results. All incentives are towards producing as many positive results as you can as fast as possible (“publish or perish”). The controls that are supposed to prevent low-quality work (most importantly, peer review) are not effective at doing so. We know from replication studies that most published findings are likely false.

This is all to say that, even before we get to the issue of ideological bias, the situation is quite poor from the perspective of wanting to find out how the world actually works. Ideological bias compounds all the other institutional problems in science.

Take publication bias. Publications generally prefer positive to negative results, which results in a upward bias in effect sizes in the literature. If everyone in the field is liberal, there will also be a liberal publication bias. This isn’t because there’s some conspiracy to prevent conservative voices from being heard. It’s just that liberal peer reviewers and editors provide greater scrutiny to ideologically problematic results. It’s not that they won’t publish it if the quality is high, but they’ll be more skeptical, require the authors to do more work to establish that their interpretation really is correct, etc. More work means more time spent on that publication and less on the next one, which is bad for your career.

The naiive view of science is: you have a hypothesis, you do an experiment to test that hypothesis, it unambiguously supports or opposes the hypothesis, you report your results. We know that science doesn’t actually work that way. Researchers have a great deal of freedom in how they set up their experiments and interpret their results–so much so that they can usually get the result they want regardless of the underlying data. If your field is composed almost entirely of liberals, the results researchers want, on politically-relevant subjects, will be those that appear to support a liberal worldview. I do not see how this could possibly fail to produce a liberal bias in social science results.

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Layman 02.22.17 at 12:30 pm

gda @ 76: ‘Science deniers? Actually, the correctly worded report was as follows:
“Republicans with higher levels of education are more likely than those in their parties with less education to say that the seriousness of global warming is “generally exaggerated.””’

This merely describes step 3 in the conservative climate change denial dance:

1) First they deny that the climate is changing at all.
2) Presented with evidence that it is changing, they admit it could be changing, but deny that any change is the result of human activity.
3) Presented with evidence that human activity is a factor, they admit human activity could be a factor, but claim the consequences are not significant.
4) Presented with evidence that the consequences could be dire, they admit the consequences could be dire, but claim there’s nothing that can reasonably be done about it.
5) Presented with a plan to mitigate the consequences, they claim the plan isn’t necessary because there’s no evidence that the climate is changing. In fact it just snowed somewhere!

Repeat as necessary.

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J-D 02.22.17 at 5:24 pm

temp
I think I follow your line of reasoning, but in my mind it prompts two lines of questioning.

1. It seems to me that despite the problems you suggest, science is generally doing pretty well. Am I deceived? Is science in a very bad way, much worse than I imagine? Or, if not, if my impression is largely accurate, doesn’t that mean there are other factors that prevent the effects you describe from being serious? Perhaps, just for example, as I have known it to be suggested, there is a high premium on refutations, and perhaps this prevents the multiplication of false positives from being as serious as it would otherwise be?

2. If you’re right, the problem is not fundamentally one of lack of diversity of views among scholars, although it could be, as you suggest, an aggravating factor. In that case, shouldn’t there be an effort to do something about the fundamental factors? Why waste time messing around at the edges? For that matter, if the lack of diversity of views among scholars is an aggravating factor, what’s to be done about that?

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Tramp 02.22.17 at 6:14 pm

@gda, 81

Well, if you want me to argue with you instead of mock you, you could have just said so. Here’s the cogent argument: if you selectively pick the things you’re analyzing, the sources you’re analyzing, and especially the particular historical moment you’re analyzing, lo and behold–you get to selectively pick your results. If Murray picks fields that, in the current historical moment of (perhaps post-)European dominance, favor dead white guys, then of course he can then claim that dead white guys have always ruled. It is compounded when he chooses sources from the long narrative of the Western canon that, of course, prefers its own forebears; for example, tracing medical history back to Hippocrates rather than, say, Avicenna or Hua Tuo. All of this leads up to historical moment in which Europe rules and then, of course, defines its own history as always having had the wisest philosophers and most erudite litterateurs–forgetting, always, that in another century, for example, the Islamic world considered Europe a backwater and it defined its own history with figures like Ibn Khaldun or Al-Kindi as the greatest of all, and a Murray of that Islamic world might have looked at this and claimed that greatness therefore would always reside with them. It would have been hubris on the part of that hypothetical Murray-type character–but, then, it always is.

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Faustusnotes 02.22.17 at 7:55 pm

No gda, I’m not seething. But it’s good to see you think plagiarism has a place in the academy. Why am I not surprised? And given McIntyre ‘s trick of selecting specific outputs and then claiming they were random passes muster with you. This is why conservatives can’t make it in academia – you can’t do research, and prefer to lie and cheat so you can spin out misinformation to the public.

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Kiwanda 02.22.17 at 8:17 pm

Z:

Well, it is time for you to clear the bar of fairly presenting the arguments of your interlocutor.

Since I pretty much just quoted you, it’s hard to see how I could have given a fairer presentation, assuming that enough context was given for the quotes; so you’re saying I didn’t give enough context?

In particular, your reformulation that I argued for the termination of “any and all affirmative action” is grotesque: nobody believes that the selection of undergraduate students, for instance, is or should be done with the main goal of producing the best scholarship, so of course other factors may (and do) play a role.

The topic was faculty hiring, so I intended to mean “any and all AA” in that setting, but OK. (And this is supported by the full context of my use of “any and all AA”: “I’m surprised to come across here such a straight-up call to end any and all affirmative action. Are you sure there are not at least some secondary criteria you would support for hiring, ceterus paribus, one scholar over another?” But OK.) Well, it wasn’t the topic of discussion, but as it happens, you think AA for undergraduate admissions is acceptable. Cool.

But still, you believe that hiring for e.g. math positions should be gender-blind, race-blind, etc-blind? Interesting.

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Kakatoa 02.22.17 at 8:57 pm

Afternoon Layman (#87)-

Dr. Bushnell has a blog post up that addresses a few details he felt were ignored by a recent LA Times post on why electrical energy prices in CA are as high as they are:

https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/breaking-news-california-electricity-prices-are-high/

….”Largely due to the RPS, we have a surge of new, low marginal cost energy, flooding into a wholesale market that already had enough generic energy, thereby driving down wholesale prices. Since wholesale prices cannot support the cost of this much generation (new and old), increasingly the gap must be made up through rising margins between wholesale and retail prices. Utilities and other retailers have to pay high market prices for new renewables instead of being able to “buy low” on the wholesale market. Because all retailers face the same regulation, they pass these costs on to end users. And this doesn’t even consider the costs of new transmission, most of which is being added to boost the power system’s ability to access and absorb large amounts of renewable energy. Transmission costs, which are also charged through to electricity end users as part of the retail prices cited in the Times article, will continue to grow in coming years. The Tehachapi transmission project alone is projected to cost over $2 Billion…..”

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Tramp 02.22.17 at 11:41 pm

@Kakatoa, 92

What’s your point? Even if energy companies invested heavily in non-renewables in the past and are now eating some of the costs of switching to renewable energy (and why shouldn’t they), that’s a problem of economics, not with the science behind climate change. I don’t see what your comment has to do with Layman’s, unless you mean to suggest that because buy-in to renewables is expensive we therefore shouldn’t do it at all. In which case, that would be step #4 of Layman’s aptly described climate denial dance.

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temp 02.23.17 at 12:03 am

J-D:
1. I think science is in a pretty bad place right now. Are you aware of the “replication crisis”? It got a lot of attention last year as a result of the Open Science Collaboration project that estimated replication rates in psychology. There are a range of views on the issue and I tend towards the more negative, but I think most scientists would at least acknowledge that there are major institutional problems.

2. I think the fundamental problem is much harder to solve without ideological diversity. Scientists will always have their individual biases and the ability to manipulate their work (usually subconsciously) to achieve their desired result. Ideally, other scientists in the field act as checks on these biases, through peer review, debate, and doing their own experiments. They can’t do so effectively if the biases of all the researchers in the field are in the same direction.

If you have ideological diversity, opposing biases can check each other. Someone publishes a finding that really disturbs you? You’ll look over it really carefully trying to find errors, limitations, alternative interpretations, etc. And they’ll do the same to your findings that aggravate them.

So I think Haidt is right that an adversarial review and debate process is important to scientific progress, and there’s not really any substitute for it. And you can’t really have such an adversarial process when everyone in the field strongly prefers that one particular side comes out as the winner.

How to achieve ideological diversity? I don’t know. I’m happy Haidt is looking into possible solutions.

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JimV 02.23.17 at 12:45 am

“And funny you should mention statistical math, when your lot, starting with Mr. Mann himself, never really seemed to comprehend just exactly how that worked…”

For the record, Dr. Mann did make a mistake by using a non-standard way to set the baseline for his Principal Component Analysis of historical data of global temperature. It had no effect on the data itself as presented in his Hockey-Stick curve nor on his conclusions.

From Skeptical Science: Since the hockey stick paper [by Mann] in 1998, there have been a number of proxy studies analysing a variety of different sources including corals, stalagmites, tree rings, boreholes and ice cores. They all confirm the original hockey stick conclusion: the 20th century is the warmest in the last 1000 years and that warming was most dramatic after.

Numerous and more egregious errors have been made by AGW-deniers, especially the so-called “pause”.

To save myself time, for assessment of further denier zombie-science tropes, refer to this site: https://skepticalscience.com/

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Layman 02.23.17 at 2:27 am

temp @ 94: “I think science is in a pretty bad place right now.”

Bluntly, I don’t believe you. The fact that you expected your ideas to be conveyed to J-D demonstrates that you have tremendous faith in the efficacy of science. Otherwise, you’d just have been howling into a gale, with no hope of being heard. Try again.

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J-D 02.23.17 at 2:51 am

temp

1. Yes, I have heard of the replication crisis.

Possibilities include:
A. This problem has always been affected science pretty much as it does now, and science has made little progress as a result.
I doubt this. Science seems to have made a lot of progress.
B. This problem has only recently had a substantial effect on science, but science has nevertheless continued to make progress about as rapidly as it ever did.
In that case, the problem seems not to be severe (although it might still be worth doing something about it).
C. This problem has only recently had a substantial effect on science, and scientific progress has slowed down significantly as a result.
In that case, there should be some evidence of a recent slowdown in scientific progress, surely?

2. What is the basis for suggesting that a replication crisis in, for example, chemistry, is a result of lack of ideological diversity among chemists? If you wanted to do something about a replication crisis in chemistry, what would make you think that the answer is a better balance of liberal chemists and conservative chemists?

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Landru 02.23.17 at 3:50 am

Temp at 86 and 94:

The institution of science (not just social science) is set up to produce large quantities of false positive results. …. We know from replication studies that most published findings are likely false.

I think science is in a pretty bad place right now. Are you aware of the “replication crisis”? It got a lot of attention last year as a result of the Open Science Collaboration project that estimated replication rates in psychology.

You shouldn’t say “science” when your main example is limited to psychology. Research in basic physical sciences suffers nothing like a “replication crisis”, and the claim that “most published findings are likely false” in fields like chemistry and physics is utterly risible.

Your claims to describe “science” as a whole are offensive and ridiculous, and you should apologize for the implication or be confirmed a complete troll.

99

Smass 02.23.17 at 5:28 am

Temp (and Kiwanda et al), simply repeating the assertion that there is not enough diversity in universities (a problem that can apparently only be fixed by more “conservatives”) does not really engage with any of the arguments about how self-contradictory and poorly thought out Haidt’s argument is.

Even if one grants Haidt’s (frankly tendentious) premise that there is currently not enough ideological diversity (as opposed to, say, diversity in class origins), what is the ideal mix of conservaties and liberals? How many conservatives is enough? How can you tell when this has been reached? Is it when “orthodoxy” has been broken up? what does that mean in practice? Which orthodoxy? (surely there is more than one)
Does this rebalancing have to apply across the entire academy or is it only specific disciplines? Does it work the other way? Should business schools employ more liberals or leftists? Are these reductive categories the only ones on offer? What about anarchists? Squishy centrists? Apolitical types? How conservative or liberal do you have to be? Is there a scale we can apply when people apply for jobs? Does one hard right academic equal two soft neo-liberals? and so on……

Also, as has been pointed out before, academics as a whole are pretty conservative about the values and role of the academy. Surely, in terms of Haidt’s moral foundations, that should count for something (e.g. lots of adhering to tradition, concerns about purity, etc, etc in academia).

100

Z 02.23.17 at 6:46 am

The topic was faculty hiring, so I intended to mean “any and all AA” in that setting, but OK.

Ah, my apologies then. I misunderstood.

Well, it wasn’t the topic of discussion, but as it happens, you think AA for undergraduate admissions is acceptable.

More precisely, I don’t think it can be rejected on the basis of the same arguments as for faculty hiring. So it is a less bad idea, so to speak. Whether it is a good idea or not depends on a lot of concrete details, and in actual cases, the way it is designed in American institutions is in my opinion quite suboptimal.

But still, you believe that hiring for e.g. math positions should be gender-blind, race-blind, etc-blind? Interesting.

I think that hiring for a research position in math should be based first and foremost on the quality of scholarship, regardless of other aspects, yes (but of course trying to take into account the existence of implicit bias, stereotypes…). For two roughly equally qualified candidates, other factors may of course play a role. In the dozen or so hiring committees I have been part of, this is how things have actually happened.

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Faustusnotes 02.23.17 at 9:47 am

Interesting that the people claiming science is in trouble think this is due to a lack of ideological diversity. I wasn’t aware that scientific results were dependent on the ideology of the researcher. Is there data on whether the Higgs boson is right wing or left wing ? Given the enormous government money involved in its discovery are we to assume it is not libertarian?

Back in the 90s the right made a lot of fuss about how the left denied objective reality, and was all into moral relativism in academia as a way to ensure science proved gays are t bad people. Just 20 years later the shoe is firmly on the other foot, and the right is claiming that good science arises from your ideological commitments, and that their confirmation bias and alternate facts demand equal representation in academia. What next, quotas for libertarians?

102

temp 02.23.17 at 11:00 am

J-D:
1. I think the problem has always existed, but gotten worse with increased competition. I’m not sure how to measure “scientific progress”.
2. I said from the start that lack of ideological diversity was a problem for the study of politically-relevant topics. I don’t think it’s a problem anywhere else.

Landru:
I apologize; I overgeneralized. I agree that the basic physical sciences don’t suffer from the problems I described.

103

temp 02.23.17 at 11:59 am

Smass:
I don’t think, and I don’t believe Haidt thinks, that the problem can only be fixed by adding more “conservatives”. Anyone with ideological biases opposed to liberals would be useful.

The ideal would be a rough balance of ideological biases on any research question for which researchers tend to have ideological biases. So, yes, business schools should employ more liberals and leftists. On some subjects, liberals and conservatives may share ideological biases, and it would be useful to employ scientists outside the liberal-conservative spectrum.

The question of how well weak ideological biases balance strong biases is an interesting one, and I’m not sure what the answer is. What do the dynamics look like if a third of the field has strong biases in one direction and 2/3 have weak biases in the other, compared to the situation where the field is split in half with opposing biases of equal strength? But I’m confident that either situation is superior to one in which 95% share biases in the same direction. I don’t think we need to know precisely what the ideal looks like to recognize that a problem exists.

104

Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant 02.23.17 at 12:07 pm

“The telos of conservatism is not truth; it’s … conserving. (Something-something.)”

No: the telos of conservatism is the preservation of the power relations of hierarchy in the face of democratic challenge from below in that hierarchy.

Johnathan Haidt is a goddamned brownshirt. What he means by “viewpoint disconfirmation” is that a college campus should make room for some nut who wants academic cover in order to call me a nigger. I suppose that my claim to humanity is some “sacred value” that should be opened up to heterodox challenge, and that my angry response is evidence only of the internalization of the “orthodoxy” of this “sacred value”. I guess I would just need to chill out. The problem, of course, is that lived consequences would likely follow from a successful heterodox challenge – such as my expulsion from the campus, and an intricate web of laws to intended to “monitor” my movements, or to restrict them.

Look, it is easier to prove the theory of gravity than it is to prove the theory of my humanity (although both are true) ONLY because the structure of “proofs” for the former does not, for historical reasons, necessarily implicate social relations. And this is even as such proofs are available to anyone who has studied phylogenetics and the related disciplines focusing on the natural, biological history the human species. You can accept gravity as real and still refuse, legitimately it seems and in the face of all objective evidence, that I am a human (or, with it, the reality of the anthropogenic component of global climate change). Indeed, you may accuse me of “orthodox” thinking because others in sufficient numbers are inclined to find cause to agree with such notions as mine, and that such persons so finding such agreement are of a certain political persuasion which would then render them predisposed to such. Even more “indeed” this last would be, for many, more than adequate cause to invite the intervention of some species of remedial “institutionalized viewpoint disconfirmation”.

One may initiate such an intervention by averring that the mere fact of such an assertion as mine, referenced above, as constituting prima-facie evidence of a suspect motive (e.g. a desire to buy and eat ice cream, to vote – or to marry a White woman…). Clearly, any claim of “humanity” carries the likelihood of benefits attending thereto. If such benefits so exist, and these benefits are reserved for that class of species known as “humans”, then what is to disincline such motivated thinking? You see, it is because I have a stake in the discussion that the alleged “truth” of my humanity may thereby be challenged by heterodoxy and thus dismissed as biased because it is also self-serving.

The second step in such an intervention is to identify the class of agents who might share the “orthodox viewpoint” in order that “disconfirmation” may be applied. Haidt clearly believes that “Liberals” invite disconfirmation at every turn. Conveniently, the categories “Liberals” and “niggers” sustain an adequate degree of Venn-diagram overlap to justify the intervention of remedial “viewpoint disconfirmation”. Remember, the welcome page of Haidt’s Heterodox Academy asks the reader: “But do we want everyone to share the same presuppositions when it comes to the study of race, class, gender, inequality, evolution, or history?” (The reader will note that missing from that list are the various hard sciences. Given the current political climate conservatives would be right to ask why, Haidt’s disclaimers notwithstanding.)

Our own reply to his question would be this question: Which particular “presuppositions” regarding these matters would Haidt have us review in order that they may be subject to heterodox interrogation?

Here are others: How widespread must the “presuppositions” be when they are declared as “orthodoxy” and as “sacred values” before the “institutional viewpoint disconfirmation” police are summoned and, in this connection, which classes of persons are most likely to qualify for remedial “institutional viewpoint disconfirmation” once their “presuppositions” reach the as-yet-undefined level of intersubjective saturation? Is a poll taken and does it target all students or only those having earned certain certificates of educational attainment? Who are its researchers and how does one qualify for that role? What is its pay scale and are there benefits? Upon the adjournment of such interrogations, what? Would those subject to “institutional viewpoint disconfirmation” be provided avenues for appeal? Is there due process? A right of refusal? Who pays for counsel? If one’s “presuppositions” are adjudicated as “non-orthodox” at the adjournment of “institutional viewpoint disconfirmation” proceedings does one, presumably a student, receive any portion of her tuition reimbursed back to her? Would she then be free to choose her future courses? If one’s “presuppositions” are deemed “orthodox” are remedial courses offered and are they free of charge? Would one’s standing as an “orthodox” risk one’s employment prospects?

Okay, one last question: Why is anyone wasting time on Haidt’s brain-farts? Alright, I know the answer: he is a college professor who is part of a contingent of architects working together in planning a hell for those of us he and his fellow reactionaries would condemn us, all under the pretext of promoting viewpoint “diversity”.

From the BBS essay that presented by Haidt at the Heterodox Academy website: “Here is a clear example of the value of political diversity: a conservative social psychologist asked a question nobody else thought (or dared) to ask, and found results that continue to make many social psychologists uncomfortable. McCauley’s willingness to put the assumption of stereotype inaccuracy to an empirical test led to the correction of one of social psychology’s most longstanding errors.” I have not seen the source that undergirds this claim, so I will indulge the likely exchange to which it refers. Conservative researcher: “Hey, nigger, are you a natural rapist or were you taught that by your defective nigger culture?” Black male respondent to conservative researcher’s inquiry: “What did you just ask me??” “Diversity” as Haidt seems to define it has been served.

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Kiwanda 02.23.17 at 3:00 pm

Smass:

Temp (and Kiwanda et al), simply repeating the assertion that there is not enough diversity in universities (a problem that can apparently only be fixed by more “conservatives”)

I’ve said nothing of the kind.

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Faustusnotes 02.23.17 at 4:29 pm

Temp, given how conservative ideology has corrupted conservatives’ ability to do or understand science or to analyze the implications of key scientific findings; and given that a large part of this conservatism is driven by a fundamentalist religious framework (though not entirely), what evidence do you have that conservatives in other field would not have their intellectual endeavors hampered by their ideology? Why is ideological diversity better for any field, when all the evidence available to us is that this particular ideology prevents its adherents from accepting basic facts or engaging in any form of reasoned discourse? Why should the ideology that gave us the flawed ideas of books like the bell curve, the silliness of the laffer curve, the proven uselessness of abstinence based education, and gay conversion therapy, be anything except a hindrance to social science, economics, health policy or gender theory?

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Sebastian H 02.23.17 at 4:40 pm

“If you wanted to do something about a replication crisis in chemistry, what would make you think that the answer is a better balance of liberal chemists and conservative chemists?”

This seems to be based in a misunderstanding about how cognitive biases work. I fully expect that chemists have cognitive biases about which areas of study to pursue and how to pursue them, but they probably (for the most part) aren’t found on a liberal/conservative political axis. They are also more rigorously hemmed in by the fact that answers end up being more definitive in chemistry (they rarely require p values allowing for a 1/20 chance of being false, normally their certainty factor over the medium term is much higher).

The same is not true of the certainty level of many of the human oriented sciences (for perfectly understandable reasons–its harder to control for confounding factors and the power of the effects tends to be smaller). So it is much easier to persist in an error for long periods of time in the human sciences than it is in the chemical sciences. (And since they can persist a long time even in the hard sciences we should be really aware in the softer ones). Furthermore, in the soft sciences, the axis of cognitive bias in the area of study is often along the conservative/liberal lines.

So you’re arguing by silliness that we shouldn’t worry about conservative/liberal chemists and therefore shouldn’t worry for any scientist, but that ends up totally ignoring which cognitive biases are operating in which disciplines.

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kakatoa 02.23.17 at 5:56 pm

Morning Tramp (#93),

1) My point was to provide an academic perceptive (vs the LA Times article) into the determinants that have led to the price of a kWh going up in CA.

a. I suggest you reread Dr. Bushnell’s post and the LA Times article and see which version, say from a historians perspective, does a better job explaining causal relationships. I think you will find that Dr. Bushnell is not a Science Denier.

b. I provided the authors of the Times article a reference I had from a few years ago on what the different service providers in the state should plan for to meet the RE standard. http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011publications/CEC-200-2011-006/CEC-200-2011-006-SD.pdf

2) It’s been 40+ years since I read The Tragedy of the Commons for the first time. The part about legislating tolerance and the role of feedback is how I look at the information that Dr. Bushnell is bringing into the political process. Essentially Dr. Bushnell noted that if the goal is reduction of CO2 than a review of some of the specific policies we have put in place is in order as some are not very effective.

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Faustusnotes 02.23.17 at 7:10 pm

Sebastian H, I don’t think it’s true that chemists don’t use p values – statistical analysis is as standard part of experimental practice (you don’t show differences between your experimental and control groups in the physical sciences just by pointing at pretty pictures or saying eureka – you compare data from multiple experimental runs). Also the idea that p values is the reason social scientists allow their biases to affect their results is naive at best. And as I have pointed out above with examples, conservatives’ problem runs deeper than their experimental method. Trent Lotts problem was not misuse of p values but likely fraudulent data; wegman’s problem was not biased interpretation of experimental results but extensive plagiarism from Wikipedia; R&Rs problem was not that they had a bias towards p values but that they excluded data and had the wrong modeling process; the reason anti AGW “scientists” publish on blogs is not liberal bias – their science is shit. McIntyre’s work “debunking” Mann is dismissed because he deliberately selects a specific answer using a carefully designed method, lies and claims it was “random”, then tries to hide the code that produced it. Need I go on?

Until people like haidt can actually produce any evidence that good quality conservative academic work is being excluded, the simpler explanation will suffice – liars and idiots who lie in defense of their own confirmation bias don’t make good academics.

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b9n10nt 02.23.17 at 9:30 pm

Sebastian H:

It seems like this would be a good time to make your case: which disciplines are hampered in their research by a lack of conservative agenda-setting?

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J-D 02.24.17 at 12:36 am

Landru

You shouldn’t say “science” when your main example is limited to psychology. Research in basic physical sciences suffers nothing like a “replication crisis”, and the claim that “most published findings are likely false” in fields like chemistry and physics is utterly risible.

I’m not sure what your basis is for concluding that the ‘replication crisis’ only affects psychology. A search of the Web suggests that something similar has manifested across scientific fields (to varying extents, admittedly), or at least that’s how many people perceive the situation. (The idea that there is a ‘replication crisis’ across scientific fields, which I find easy to take seriously, is not the same thing as the idea that most published scientific findings are likely to be false, which, like you, I find hard to take seriously.)

See below for further implications of this point.

temp

I think the problem has always existed, but gotten worse with increased competition. I’m not sure how to measure “scientific progress”.

I can’t suggest any quantitative measure of scientific progress. However, it seems plain to me that science has made possible a better understanding of many topics than was possible 200 years ago (for example), and also that it made possible better understanding 200 years ago than was possible 400 years ago. Is this not plain to you? If it isn’t, do you have any other reason for thinking science is worthwhile at all?

Is it possible that increased competition also means an increased premium on refutations, which would be a countervailing tendency to any aggravation of the problem?

I said from the start that lack of ideological diversity was a problem for the study of politically-relevant topics. I don’t think it’s a problem anywhere else.

You have suggested (if I have understood you correctly; if not, please correct me) that there are problems arising from common cognitive biases and/or the institutional structure of scientific practice which produce a problem of which the ‘replication crisis’ is evidence. I don’t understand why this would be restricted to the study of politically relevant topics. If you have a different reason for thinking that lack of ideological diversity is a problem for the study of politically relevant topics (but not others), I haven’t grasped it.

Landru:
I apologize; I overgeneralized. I agree that the basic physical sciences don’t suffer from the problems I described.

I am not sure (see above) that you are correct to accept Landru’s view that the replication crisis is specific to psychology. However, if it is, then it’s not evidence of problems in politically relevant fields outside psychology and therefore not evidence that lack of ideological diversity is a problem in any field except psychology.

Sebastian H

Furthermore, in the soft sciences, the axis of cognitive bias in the area of study is often along the conservative/liberal lines.
You have offered no justification for this conclusion.

More generally, it’s not usually the case that some people have cognitive biases in one direction and other people have cognitive biases in an opposite direction. It’s usually the case that cognitive bias operates only in one direction, but the extent to which people are influenced by it varies from case to case. The remedy for the problem of cognitive bias (to the extent that there is on) is not working with a mixture of people with opposing cognitive biases (this is rarely if ever feasible), but greater awareness of cognitive biases. (Cognitive bias means something more specific than just bias; if we’re going to discuss bias in a more general sense, different considerations arise.)

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Sebastian H 02.24.17 at 6:20 am

“More generally, it’s not usually the case that some people have cognitive biases in one direction and other people have cognitive biases in an opposite direction. It’s usually the case that cognitive bias operates only in one direction, but the extent to which people are influenced by it varies from case to case. “

Either I’m misunderstanding you, or that isn’t true. A classic cognitive bias that affects researchers (and to be clear also everyone to some large extent) is confirmation bias. It is defined something like “The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. In addition, individuals may discredit information that does not support their views.”

What views you are improperly confirming and what views you are improperly discrediting are influenced by what views you have. So you are correct that people tend to be affected by cognitive bias to similar degrees. But for confirmation bias that can still be in opposite DIRECTIONS. In a well functioning scientific environment that is ok because my people will tend to be somewhat overcritical of ‘their’ exploration and ‘they’ will be overcritical of ours. We will tend to be overly easy on ours, they on theirs. But as long as the dialectic is functioning we get closer to the truth. However if you don’t have the other side around, your confirmation bias just keeps echoing back on itself.

In the social sciences, your political views can (and because of confirmation bias, often WILL) bear on you areas of research much more often than in the hard sciences. It isn’t because chemists are immune to confirmation bias. It is because their political views aren’t tied to their research.

Faustusnotes, you write: “Sebastian H, I don’t think it’s true that chemists don’t use p values – statistical analysis is as standard part of experimental practice (you don’t show differences between your experimental and control groups in the physical sciences just by pointing at pretty pictures or saying eureka – you compare data from multiple experimental runs).”

Of course they use p-values. But they expect well run experiments to operate at a much higher degree of certainty than .05. In physics, to announce a discovery, they expect p values of less than p=0.0000003. That is more than 5 orders of magnitude. To put it in perspective, if a physicist expects to hit a target within an inch, a psychologist expects to hit it within a mile and a half. And then we use the same word ‘science’ to describe both. A physicist’s confirmation bias can be definitely refuted. But there are psychologists who will believe in priming effects for the rest of their lives because if you run a study with 20 degrees of freedom to examine at p value 0.05, you are going to find something even if it has no connection to the truth.

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Pavel 02.24.17 at 7:05 am

J-D

I know you googled around for this, but the reproducibility crisis generally does exist on a gradient. Hard sciences produce the least of it because these systems are easier to study in isolation and the results have a more rigid structure (some exceptions, like theoretical physics exist), social sciences generally produce more junk because they study more holistic, higher-order effects overlaid on top of complex systems. Compare the way the scientific community responded to the FTL Neutrino Anomaly (and the subsequent resignation of Ereditato and Autiero) versus the generally lax approach Economists and other social scientists take towards their rampant misunderstanding of basic statistical concepts like p-values.

That said, certain additional factors besides complexity renders specific fields more likely to commit significant reproducibility errors. The field of pharmacology is rife with reproducibility problems largely because the large reams of data can be tortured to reveal whatever you want them to reveal (the complexity factor), and this is handily exploited by vested industry interests and corporate stakeholders. But don’t take my word for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N63skNtYaJw&ab_channel=TheLownInstitute

tl;dr in internal medicine and pharmacology, capitalism ruins (almost) everything.

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Chris M 02.24.17 at 3:18 pm

I’m part of Heterodox Academy. Thank you for this series of posts. Although there isn’t a ton of evidence out there that a balance of conservatives and liberals works out better, there is a paper by Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and Nate Carnes that at least has some empirical support for the idea:
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0152479

The argument here is that libertarians lack a group-binding morality, but both liberals and conservatives (contra Haidt) endorse a group-focused binding morality. For liberals, it’s social justice and for conservatives it’s social order. Social justice involves collective effort to improve everyone’s welfare, and social order involves collective effort to protect against chaos, invasion, disaster, etc. The first is relatively optimistic and Benthamite, and the second is relatively pessimistic and Burkean.

The problem in the US–well there are a couple of problems. First, a lot of liberals look like libertarians (dont tell me what to do with my body!) but are also social justice proponents (we must redistribute income, so tax me). This is not entirely consistent, but people aren’t entirely consistent. Conservatives also look like libertarians (don’t take away my guns or money!) but are also social order proponents (regulate sexual activity, immigration, marriage, etc.). The second is that the Republican Party, an extremist undemocratic and dishonest party, is the face of conservatism, so American liberals aren’t going to respect conservatism, and right now they shouldn’t be expected to. In other countries, this might be possible, but not in the U.S. I tried to explain this to my undergraduate class here:

https://medium.com/@chrismartin76/to-my-undergraduate-class-on-the-2017-election-e07ff1af91a1

Some people in Heterodox Academy get this, but others do not.

Existing theories are too parsimonious to explain how this fits together. I’ve heard that the situation is different in continental Europe, where liberals are more pure in their libertarianism, but I don’t know if this just a rumor, and I’m guessing it is.

Going back to the paper, the authors show through linear regression that countries benefit economically and hedonically when they are at a Goldilocks point. I’d like to see more empirical work in this vein to see if this claim holds up when you use other datasets and measures.

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J-D 02.24.17 at 8:56 pm

Sebastian H
Yes, confirmation bias is a real problem, but how is the appropriate solution to its manifestation within universities ‘hire more conservative academics’? Confirmation bias is not just a problem that affects the investigation of the few narrowly defined issues (if indeed there are any at all) where there’s a conservative position, a liberal position, and no others. Why should we not care about confirmation bias in chemistry as much as anywhere else? Confirmation bias is a general problem which calls for more general responses, and ‘strive to hire academics who hold every possible position on every conceivable intellectual issue’ is not a feasible solution. ‘Strive to hire academics who are aware of the problem of confirmation bias and are prepared for mitigating it’ makes more sense, but that doesn’t involve balancing conservatives against liberals. ‘Structure your institutions to place a premium on intellectual refutations’ also seems like a plausible strategy — it is reported that academia already does this, and again it doesn’t involve balancing conservatives against liberals.

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J-D 02.24.17 at 9:00 pm

Pavel
You are enlarging on a point which I already acknowledged. Note that I wrote:

A search of the Web suggests that something similar has manifested across scientific fields (to varying extents, admittedly)

Note the parenthesis in particular.

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engels 02.24.17 at 9:50 pm

It seems like this would be a good time to make your case: which disciplines are hampered in their research by a lack of conservative agenda-setting?

Histoography of the Bowling Green massacre?

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Faustusnotes 02.25.17 at 11:01 am

Sebastian, high energy physics uses a very low p value threshold but this isn’t common to all the physical sciences. You gave the example of chemists. Nature does not specify a significance threshold in its submission guidelines for example (though it gives 0.05 as an example). I have had the dubious pleasure of sitting through a large number of biochemistry presentations and they always use 0.05 as the threshold.

Also, who calls psychology science? I certainly don’t, and neither do I call Economics science. But this was my point up above – where does science stop and social science start, that you can draw these lines about where confirmation bias matters and where it doesn’t? Crick and Watson didn’t do any statistical analysis for their DNA paper, and to the best of my knowledge neither did Michelson and Morley – they disproved the ether with a bad line drawing of their results. The ether was a highly controversial issue (you can still find cranks today who think Michelson and Morley got it wrong) and the kind of experiment where confirmation bias could be important. A lot of our most famous scientific progress was achieved in his way. So I don’t think you can isolate these fields in the way you’re doing – either we need quotas for libertarians across the whole academy, or we don’t at all.

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Landru 02.25.17 at 6:41 pm

J-D at 111: I’m not sure what your basis is for concluding that the ‘replication crisis’ only affects psychology.

I am not sure (see above) that you are correct to accept Landru’s view that the replication crisis is specific to psychology.

Just for the record, as this thread fades into history, I should clarify. When I wrote “when your main example is limited to psychology” at 98, I didn’t mean to imply that psychology was necessarily the only example one could ever come up with; it was specifically in response to temp having provided no specific examples other than psychology at 86 and 94. I hope this is clear and apologize for any confusion.

While we’re on the subject, though, I have to say I haven’t seen a lot of evidence for anything like a “replication crisis” for any scientific fields other than psychology, though I might be under-informed. For those who think this is the case, what evidence would you point to?

At the same time, please address: what is your threshold for the use of a word like “crisis”? I.e. if one out of every thousand or ten thousand published papers in biochemistry uses faked data, then I would certainly call that a worrisome problem; but I think “crisis” should be reserved for something systemic and devastating — as perhaps is the case in psychology, though again I don’t claim to be well informed there.

As for medicine and pharmacology I can’t disagree, that the setup of having the people who investigate whether substance X is effective be paid by the people who want to sell X, is asking for trouble. But, at the same time, ask yourself: have you ever taken a medication newly developed in the last twenty years? or given one to your children? If so, then you clearly can’t subscribe entirely to a belief like “in internal medicine and pharmacology, capitalism ruins (almost) everything.” Research in fields with a lot of money at stake on the outcomes may be necessarily fraught; but I think gross exaggerations saying their activity is worthless, e.g. “most published findings are likely false”, are lazy and unhelpful.

Lastly, to return to the poor whipping boy of psychology, it occurs to me to wonder how many of the unreproducible, e.g. bad, research results can be attributed more directly to under-funding. Would we have at all the same situation if, instead of interviewing 1,000 people on some question, the psychology experimenters could afford to ask 100,000 people instead? and could also hire statisticians and take the time to comb through the data properly for all the various confounders, etc.? Or, would the “bias toward getting a headline result”, or a “politically correct” result (for whatever ideology), still sway people into publishing unsupported conclusions?

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engels 02.25.17 at 7:40 pm

who calls psychology science?

From the website of the American Psychological Association:

The science of psychology benefits society and enhances our lives. Psychologists examine the relationships between brain function and behavior, and the environment and behavior, applying what they learn to illuminate our understanding and improve the world around us….

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J-D 02.25.17 at 8:57 pm

Landru
I don’t know myself that it counts as a crisis; if you don’t consider the situation critical, I’ve got no basis to suggest considering that it is. What I do know is that I’ve seen the expression ‘replication crisis’ used. I mentioned above what I did; I searched the Web for that expression, and I found it used across scientific fields, not just with reference to psychology. You can search yourself, look at the references you find, and decide for yourself how much weight should be attached to them.

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J-D 02.26.17 at 12:08 am

Chris M

Going back to the paper, the authors show through linear regression that countries benefit economically and hedonically when they are at a Goldilocks point. I’d like to see more empirical work in this vein to see if this claim holds up when you use other datasets and measures.

Even if it’s true that there’s a kind of balance (or intermediate position) between two opposites that is beneficial to a country, how does that support any conclusion about the best way of staffing a university?

123

faustusnotes 02.26.17 at 12:50 am

As another good counter-example to the idea that science is somehow above confirmation bias and ideological influence, consider Nic Lewis’s work on the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS). He is from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and it is in his interest for ECS to be as low as possible. He has published one or two papers in reputable journals using Bayesian statistical analysis of temperature datasets to show that the ECS is much lower than the IPCC’s estimates, which if true would mean global warming is “not that serious.” He does this through careful selection of priors in his Bayesian model. This has nothing to do with p values and everything to do with carefully biasing his research to meet the needs of the GWPF. But his science is “robust” in the technical sense that he hasn’t done anythign wrong – it all boils down to a dispute about whether he has chosen the right prior. But this is science, right? So he can’t be wrong! His biases can’t have affected his conclusion!

His work just goes to show that there is no field that conservatives can’t corrupt with their desperate need to make the world fit their political thinking. But the implication of the work of people like Haidt is that these biased and corrupt thinkers should be coddled in the academy. Why?

(For the record, it’s easy to see that Lewis’s ECS estimates must be wrong since if they were correct well-known past temperature excursions would have been impossible. But his methodology is not wrong, so he gets published. Without giving a single p-value).

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Another Nick 02.26.17 at 9:51 am

Chris M: “Going back to the paper, the authors show through linear regression that countries benefit economically and hedonically when they are at a Goldilocks point.”

Not exactly. They showed that psych students from happier, wealthier countries were more likely to perceive their country as being closer to a Goldilocks point. In other words, they found that people who are happier and wealthier, tend to be less politically dissatisfied.

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Chris M 02.26.17 at 8:03 pm

Another Nick, see Study 3 in the paper.

126

Another Nick 02.27.17 at 12:09 am

Hi Chris M, yep that’s exactly what I was referring to. Study 3 compares a handful of happiness and wealth indicators, and finds a correlation with results from Gelfand et al:

http://zeynepaycan.net/doc/j4.pdf

Where study participants (largely psych students from different countries) were asked to decide if they are content with the level of “situational constraint” placed upon them by their government/religion/military/society.

Participants from happier and wealthier countries tended to answer that they were more content with their levels of “situational constraint”. That they are less dissatisfied with the taste of their porridge, so to speak.

Am I missing something glaring? I’m not seeing that either study established the kind of causation you’re referring to: that ~50% conservatives, ~50% progressives, in a university is the ideal thermomix setting to whip up delicious wealth and happiness for the whole country.

Imagine applying this kind of “ideological diversity” hiring enforcement in a poor country (which presumably wants to become wealthier and happier).

Hirer: “Do you believe you live in the best of all possible worlds?”

“No. Our country is plagued with poverty, stricken with warfare and unemployment, and overly dominated by religion. These are our country’s most pressing problems. I want to use my research to help find ways to solve them.”

Hirer: “Hmm, sorry, we actually have far too many candidates who’ve already said that. What we’re really looking for,\ to address the imbalance, is someone who believes stricter military rule and more religious domination is in order…”

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Chris M 02.27.17 at 3:44 pm

Another Nick: The data that they drew from the Gelfand study were the basic ratings of tightness and looseness:

Tightness-looseness (the overall strength of
social norms and tolerance of deviance) was measured
on a six-item Likert scale that assessed the
degree to which social norms are pervasive, clearly
defined, and reliably imposed within nations.
Example scale items include “There are many
social norms that people are supposed to abide by
in this country,” “In this country, if someone acts
in an inappropriate way, others will strongly disapprove,”
and “People in this country almost
always comply with social norms.”

I don’t see the part about feeling content or not. Where is that?

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Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant 02.27.17 at 6:36 pm

Another Nick @ 126: You said better than I!

129

Another Nick 02.28.17 at 5:58 am

Chris M, you’re correct. Sorry, I thoroughly misread and didn’t realise the “situational constraint” questions were for a separate study. I’ll withdraw my claim @ 124.

Thanks Donald. I do still stand by the rest of my comment.

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